The rat must die
I have been having a problem with a rat which has grown fat on, of all things, trout pellets. He seems to have a peculiar liking for the pellets which my fish farming friends tell me contain, in descending order of amounts, fishmeal, fish oil, corn product, wheat, soya meal, vitamins, minerals and an amino acid compound. It doesn't sound that tasty to me but fish and rats apparently disagree.
This hasn't been my first run in with rodents. A few years ago a family of mice emptied an entire bag (imagine something the size of three sandbags) but ate very few. It sounds odd because it was.
Over a period of weeks they transported the pellets from the bag to the other side of the shed, stacking them up behind a bin. It truly must have taken thousands of journeys and they showed astonishing dedication carrying a few pellets in their mouth each time. I can't imagine how they felt when on finding their cache I shovelled them all back in the bag, storing it in a mice-proof container for good measure. The rat however, was different.
There is a peculiar smell about rats. If you, like me, were bought up on a farm you will instantly recognise it on entering a building. The smell is not gagging unpleasant; a sort of acidic, musty odour of urine that is like nothing else. Rats leave it everywhere - they have no control over their bladder, a trail of their dribbled outpourings left wherever they go. The shed had exactly that smell. A few times I caught sight of a brown furry figure chasing along the edge of the wall, disappearing under the machinery. I took to carrying my air gun but the best effort hit a mower rather than the rat. Next came Jaffa, our cat, the alleged perpetrator of the duckling massacre. He is a regular killer of moles, voles and rats, so a few hours in the shed each day would surely do the trick. But no. All he did was acquire a similar liking for fish pellets.
So I invoked science, buying rat poison which comes as blue coloured corn. However, given a choice between the trout pellets and the corn, well you can imagine. So I took away all the pellets, but the truth is you never really get rid of them all. Over time the bags will have burst, scattering pellets like so many tiny marbles, rolling into every crevice imaginable. There were enough left to keep Mr. Rat coming back. With each passing day I could only admire his plump frame and shiny coat that is a tribute to the protein formula of Skreeting, the Norwegian company who make the fish pellets.
Finally I think he must have exhausted all the pellets for the blue corn started to disappear from the feeder. Not long now I thought. But no, however much I put out each day the following morning it was gone. He was clearly immune or some sort of super rat. In the end I lost my patience when he started to chew his way into the poison container itself, shredding the plastic lid. It was time for something more drastic - a Fenn trap. Frankly Fenn traps terrify me. They are a bit like the man traps of old - open jaws that lay flat on the ground until springing shut when the unsuspecting victim steps on a hidden release plate. However many times I watch the You Tube video to remind me how to set it safely I still fear that I will lose my own fingers.
But set it safely I did and, in what I thought was a cunning move, I laid a trail of fish pellets in its path. Success? Not a bit of it. Day after day it was left unsprung, the pellets uneaten. So, I tried the blue corn. Eureka! There was Mr. Rat dead, trapped squarely in the jaws. On close examination he truly was the healthiest, biggest rat I have seen in years. His fur, almost auburn, positively gleamed. If there was a national championship for Rattus norvegicus he would have surely won Best in Show.
Now he has gone, the battle over I feel a little sad and not a little cruel but I comfort myself that for some months, whilst dining like a king, he had the satisfaction of leading me on a merry dance.
SALMON GOOD NEWS
Good news surrounding Atlantic salmon in the British Isles is hard to come by but there is a chink of light from the annual fish counter returns on the Rivers Test and Itchen, which report the highest number of returning fish in 25 years.
Since 1990 the Environment Agency have monitored the run from May to December each year and built up an impressive set of data. In 2015 a total of 2,007 salmon were counted through the Test and 903 on the Itchen. That compares to the previous record on the Test set in 2008 of 1,487 and in 2014 on the Itchen at 779. The low points stand at just couple of dozen fish on the Itchen in 1991 and under 400 on the Test in 1997.
Nobody is doing high fives at the news; we really don't have enough science to draw any firm conclusions but it is encouraging not least because the five year average, which eliminates annual variations, is on an ever upward graph for both rivers. I guess the only bad news for the salmon fishermen amongst you is that of those 2,007 River Test fish 1,250 arrived after the season had closed!
You can read the full report from Dominic Longley at the Environment Agency here.
Here are a few bi-weekly puzzlers to confuse, confound or illuminate. It's just for fun and answers are at the bottom of the page.
1) On which continent will you not find the Brown rat?
2) What is the common name for the Alnus tree often found growing along rivers?
3) What is the salmon fishing season on the Rivers Test & Itchen?
TICKETS ON SALE FOR 2016 FLY FISHING FILM TOUR
The Fly Fishing Film Tour rolls into town for the third year as part of the River Test One Fly Festival in April. As ever you will be treated to six adrenaline pumping action films from around the globe, plus the public debut of Matt Dunkinson's Guides Day.
You will be able to enjoy a pre-film drink in the Hatch Bar of the Grosvenor Hotel in Stockbridge before the lights dim and the camera rolls at 7.30pm on April 21st. During the interval we will have prizes and giveaways.
Book your ticket on-line or call 01264 781988.
See you on the river in 2016.
Simon Cooper firstname.lastname@example.org
Founder & Managing Director
Quiz answers: 1) Antarctica 2) Alder 3) 17th January-2nd October