Bolton Ferret Welfare

Pest Control at Dunham Massey

In February I received an email from the assistant gardener at Dunham Massey asking if I knew anyone who could a bit of pest control in the formal garden as they had a problem with rabbits eating newly planted shrubs and flowers. I had, very reluctantly, sold all my ferreting equipment some years ago as I just couldn't manage it anymore because of sciatica in my right hip and leg.

A phone call to Jack soon settled the matter and we arranged a time to visit the National Trust property. The first drawback was that we had to be out of the garden by 11am as that was when the public were admitted. The lurchers were also a problem to start with as no dogs were allowed in the garden only in the park land, eventually we persuaded them that the dogs were an essential part of our ferreting gear.

I know not all ferreters will use a dog but believe me a good dog can save you a lot of time. Lucy, my own lurcher (now retired as she's 15 years old), was excellent at marking an occupied bury.

We arranged to meet up with Katharine, the assistant gardener, at 7am. Jack has also brought along a mate of his, Andy with his lurcher Rom. After having a brew in the gardeners' mess room we were eventually shown into the formal gardens by Katharine who was acting as our guide. She first took us to a large tree on the lawn where she'd seen a number of rabbits. Rosie and Knocker, Jack's two lurchers, after having a sniff down the holes weren't interested and shot off towards some trees and bushes on the far side of the lawn. We followed them and found the pair of them marking a bury. Jack and Andy set purse nets and a ferret was introduced into one of the holes. Five minutes later a rabbit shot past me and disappeared into the distance followed by the lurchers who were hampered by the bushes, so that rabbit had a lucky escape and made it down another bury.

After picking up the nets and still following the lurchers we moved on. Rosie stopped when she reached a big tree and waited for us to catch up to her. Katharine and I watched as the Jack and Andy set the nets. A couple of ferrets were used this time and after around 10 minutes the first rabbit bolted and ended up in a purse net, followed quite quickly by another one, so we'd broken our duck. We got three from that bury and as the ferrets kept popping in and out of the bury we decided to pick up the nets and move on; I had tried to collect some but had difficulty bending down.

Alas most of buries were hidden underneath rhododendron bushes and weren't easily accessible. One warren we tried working was in a mound and massive. Katharine informed us that it was where the ladies who were staying in the big house use to gather to watch their men folk hunting in the grounds.

The weather had now turned horrible, it had hailed as we were making our way to the mound and now there was a bitter wind blowing. We drew a blank at the mound, it was much too large for us to tackle with the nets we had.

As time was getting on we started making our way back to the gardeners' compound stopping on the way to ferret a few more buries where we managed to get another couple of rabbits, nothing like the catch we had hoped for although the gardeners at Dunham Massey were happy as that meant five fewer rabbits to destroy plants.

We actually ended up with six rabbits as one was caught in the gardeners' compound just before we left.

Two weeks later we were back at Dunham Massey - it was pretty dire this time with only two rabbits and a heck of a lot of digging for Andy with nothing to show for it. By the time we packed up Andy decided that he didn't want to return to Dunham again as it was too much digging with no results at the end of it all. Fortunately we had been asked to sort out a rabbit problem in a paddock near Alsager. So we got back in Jack's 4x4 and headed off down the M6 to the new venue hoping for some better luck.

We were met at the paddock by the owners who were waiting for us, they were going to try to get their old horse into the shed but she wasn't having any of that and watched us from a safe distance.

Jack and Andy decided to try the hedgerow first with Andy crawling under the blackthorn bushes into the next field; the owners of the paddock had already spoken to the owners of the adjoining field and obtained permission off them for us to have access. We only waited for a few minutes before two rabbits simultaneously bolted on either side of the hedgerow, the couple of jills who were underground were working well and after a short dig we got another one from that bury.

We then moved to some holes in the middle of the paddock, this was the one the owners were worried about and had actually roped the area off to prevent their old horse from breaking a leg down a rabbit hole. We got a bolter from this plus another one from a dig.

Rosie, Jack's lurcher suddenly made a run back to the first bury and ended up grabbing a rabbit which was emerging from a pop hole near the hedge, Rom had followed Rosie over and shoulder charged her causing her to drop the rabbit which headed back down the hole; both lurchers dived after the rabbit and Rosie managed to catch it again and dragged it back out of the hole as it was just about the disappear only to have Rom take it off her. Rom was only a young dog and hadn't learnt any manners; in fact, he lacked concentration and preferred to run around instead of paying attention when the nets had been set.

So it turned out to be quite a good day after all with a total of eight rabbits.

Two weeks later Jack and I went back to Dunham Massey, this time without Andy and Rom.

This time Katharine didn't escort us as she had to attend a staff meeting, not that it mattered as we were getting to know our way around the garden now. We tried a few buries but drew a blanks so decided to head for the mound but this time Jack decided to try on the other side of the path. By the time I'd caught up with him, I've only got one pace and that is dead slow, he'd set a couple of purse nets and had sent one of his jills in the bury. After five minutes or so we heard a rabbit squeal; Jack dashed to where the rabbit was trying to make a run for it but wasn't having much luck as the jill was holding on its hind quarters. Jack said that in all the years he'd been ferreting it was the first time he'd had a ferret holding a rabbit above ground to prevent it from bolting.

The next rabbit from that bury involved a dig, actually two digs as the rabbit moved before Jack dug down to it. Fortunately the ground was soft so didn't require much effort.

We managed to get two rabbits from the garden and two more from the gardeners' compound so it wasn't too bad. In actual fact, we had a good day without having Rom charging around with a rabbit in his mouth and Andy trying to get him to him to bring the catch to hand; it was nice a peaceful with just Rosie and Knocker who both knew what their jobs were.

When Jack was gutting the rabbits a couple of dog walkers came along and the chap stopped to ask what we'd been doing. Anyway we got chatting to him whilst his wife carried on walking back to the car park. He ended up with a cleaned and skinned rabbit which hopefully his wife would end up cooking, I think he was looking forward to a nice rabbit stew with dumplings.

That was the last ferreting trip of the season as we were now getting some milky does.

A couple of weeks later I decided to make and appointment to see my doctor as I'd been waking up in the middle of the night in quite a bit of pain from my right hip and left knee. The pain killers I was on at the time just weren't hacking it any more. As this doctor was fairly new to the practice he decided to check out my knee and hip. He then said I had to go for a X-rays the result of which showed a bit of wear in knee but my right hip was in a pretty bad state. I've since been to see an orthopedic consultant and he has now referred me to see a surgeon to discuss the possibility of a hip replacement. So what I thought was sciatica has turned out to be osteoarthritis. No wonder I've been in so much pain from my hip!

by Sheila Crompton... March 2015

Working Ferrets