Ferreting in the Yorkshire Dales
SHEILA CROMPTON braves the rain and the mud for a day's ferreting in spectacular upland landscape north west of Skipton
It's been at least two years since I last went working my ferrets. However, a couple of months ago, the editor got permission for me to ferret on land near Skipton in North Yorkshire.
The owner of a livery stables had a rabbit problem that he wanted sorting so at the beginning of December, Stuart Taylor and I decided to make a start on the task. The weather forecast wasn't brilliant, light showers, so we thought we'd chance it - at least by showing willing I wouldn't lose the ferreting rights
It rained all the time I was driving to the stables, however by the time we set off with Spock, Lucy, four ferrets and all the gear, it had settled down to a drizzle. It wasn't all that pleasant but we reckoned we could cope with it.
Lucy is about three years old, a Bedlington x whippet with maybe a touch of greyhound chucked in (I don't really know because she's a rescue from Lurcher Link in Halifax. Spock is five, a Bedlington/whippet x Bedlington/greyhound. On his first ferreting trip, he proved useless so we were hoping that as he is now older, he might be wiser.
Stuart fastened both dogs up when we started netting up the first bury. Lucy was yelping and whining and generally being a pain so I suggested to Stuart that he let them loose. Much better, they both came and joined us and watched. Stuart had been worried that the dogs would disturb the nets. We had no joy at the first attempt so we moved up to the top of the field, to the hedgerow next to the road. Stuart used Cloich, his albino hob, and it wasn't long before the first rabbit hit the net. Lucy and Spock were really interested. After Stuart had dispatched the rabbit, we let the dogs 'examine' it before hanging it up in a tree (a sort of: 'OK you two, this is what we are after').
The next rabbit bolted via a hole that we'd missed when netting up and we were treated to a fantastic course, with the rabbit finally diving underground to escape from the lurchers. We ended up with three rabbits from this bury and moved on down the hill to a hillocky bit of the field - in past years stone must have been quarried for walls. It had stopped raining, the wind had picked up a bit but it wasn't too bad.
It took us a while to net up as we were slipping and sliding in the wet conditions plus the main holes were under a hawthorn. Once the nets were set and the ferret entered, Lucy and Spock started taking an interest. I don't know if they could actually follow the action underground but they appeared to. Spock nearly caught a rabbit out of this bury - it bolted from a hole we hadn't netted and had an excellent start but Spock can really shift when he is at full speed. He was just about to grab it when it jinked left. Poor Spock tried to turn and skidded on to his side but apart from a muddy backside he was fine. We ended up with four rabbits from this bury.
We moved on down the field to a hedgerow along the bottom. It had looked promising but we blanked. Time for lunch so we headed back to my van. Frying pan on the cooker and a few slices of black pudding in bread rolls topped off with a bacon buttie. A hot coffee and we were ready for the fray again.
Still drew a blank in the bottom hedgerow and concluded that the water table was rather high and perhaps the holes were rather too wet for permanent occupation. Lucy was lying near the fence, holding up a front paw and whimpering. I could feel nothing wrong and Stuart thought she'd perhaps been nettled - nettles are pretty strong at that time of year. Lucy put on the wounded soldier act of walking on three legs but we reckoned as soon as she saw a rabbit she'd be back on all fours quick as a flash.
We moved back up the hill to have a crack at another bury. Unfortunately, the land the other side belonged to another farmer so we couldn't net it. Yes, a couple of rabbits dived out that side of the bury. However, we did get one that came out where we'd netted a hole at the top of the hillock. Lucy was on it in a flash. She had forgotten all about the stinging nettle that had 'attacked' her.
I still had my seven-month-old albino jill Flower, from John Barton of Broadway Ferret Rescue, to try out. John had been inundated with unwanted albino kits. They'd been bred from working stock so I said I'd take one as I'd lost my best worker - he'd died when he was eight.
Stuart found a 'one-holer' in the bottom hedgerow - a nice little starter for a novice. At first the little girl wasn't too keen but a gentle push and she slowly went underground. As the minutes ticked by I started biting my nails but Stuart assured me that she would be exploring. Then both dogs pricked their ears and looked towards the hole. A rabbit appeared, hit the net, wriggled out and shot away with both dogs in pursuit. Lucy pounced on it and pinned it down with her front paws. Spock waited, a sort of backstop in case Lucy let it go. The young jill appeared more or less behind the rabbit so she'd been really working chasing it. She's only young but she's quite big with her winter weight and coat on.
Outcome of the day; nine rabbits, two very tired lurchers, four happy ferrets and two shattered, extremely muddy, but contented ferreters.
As I drove away from the stable yard, it started raining again.
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