Category Archives: Country life

Roost shooting on National Pigeon Shooting Day provides meat for the pot in February

Illustration of Columba palumbus Linn., (Wood ...
Image via Wikipedia

I have just received an invitation from a gamekeeper friend to go roost shooting. In February every year game keepers up and down the country open up the woods on their shoots to teams of guns – usually beaters who have served them loyally throughout the season – to shoot wood pigeons. The first of these Saturdays in February is called National Pigeon Shooting Day. Shooting continues each Saturday throughout the month and can account for over one million woodies nationally.

Before you start complaining there are two things you need to know. Firstly, wood pigeons (columba palumbus) are a major agricultural pest in the UK. They are flock feeders and chomp their way through fields of expensive crops such as rape, sprouts, cabbages, peas and grain. According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) there are somewhere between 2.6 million and 3.2 million breeding pairs in the UK. They can also breed more than once a year. That’s a lot of birds and a lot of damage, so the need for their control is apparent.

The second point to remember is that they are very good to eat and provide a healthy and plentiful source of protein. There is wealth of recipes to be found online. Take a look at The Wild Meat Company for some tasty inspiration.  Meat such as pigeon breast is becoming popular again as it features in the books and TV shows of chefs like Valentine Warner (What to Eat Now) and Jamie Oliver. Some of the birds shot during the month will end up in the shooters’ pot. Some will be on sale in local butchers and farm shops and yet more will be found in good quality restaurants and gastro pubs. The meat is rich, dark and delicious.

Standing in the woods in late afternoon listening to the breeze rattle the branches of the trees, scanning the darkening sky waiting for the pigeons to fly in to roost is a pleasure in itself. It’s a time for reflection and a peaceful commune with the natural world – forgetting for a moment that this environment is carefully managed. As the winter sun begins to set, bathing the woods in its fading orange glow, pheasants chortle as they come into the woods to roost – safe from the hunter’s gun for another nine months or so. Hares lollop through the moss and leaf litter, ears pricked, ready to speed away at the slightest movement – aware of what does not belong in the wood.

As the shooters position themselves at the edges of the woods, canny old stagers will already have claimed their favourite spots – roosting signs like droppings under the trees committed to memory days and weeks in advance during the shooting season. Carefully organised teams of two cover each of the woods on the shoot. Everyone knows where everyone else is. Hopefully the wind will get up, bringing the birds in lower over the tree tops. A light breeze, or worse none at all, will mean that the woodies will fly in quickly out of range of all but the most tightly choked barrels.

A clatter of wings and a commotion in the branches above signals the first arrivals and shots ring out, echoing across the fields as the first of the woodies fall. Others will veer away to circle and return. The shooting continues until the dusk when it is too dark to see. Shot birds will be gathered up and carried off in game bags either to be sold to a game dealer, given away or taken home for the pot.

Save our pubs – use ’em or lose ’em


Nearly 900 pubs closed down in rural Britain last year. It’s a clear indication that traditional village life is under threat of extinction in many parts of the country – including ours.

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) has revealed that 893 pubs closed in rural areas last year, with 195 new boozers opening – leading to a net loss of 698 in 2009. The previous year, an estimated 650 country pubs called last orders on their businesses.

This is despite ICM polling commissioned by the Federation showing 82% of country dwellers say a pub is an important part of a village, including 46% who say it is ‘very important’.

Village shops are also in rapid decline with around 400 closing in 2008, while schools closed at the rate of one a month in rural England between 1997 and 2008.

The Federation said the mass closures reflected a declining demand for services in villages where local families – the core customer base – had been priced out of the area by wealthy commuters, pensioners and second home owners.

Federation chief executive David Orr said: “The cornerstones of traditional village life, such as the local school, the shop and the pub, are disappearing from the rural landscape at an alarming rate. 

“Rural towns and villages need to have mixed, working communities, otherwise there is a very real danger our countryside will become little more than a theme park for weekenders.

Brigid Simmonds, BBPA chief executive, added: “Along with local shops, post offices and schools, village pubs are pivotal to the life of local communities across Britain. Pubs act as much more than a social venue. They are a focal point for sports teams, local groups and meetings. In addition they provide a range of community services like post offices and shops.  We need a climate that allows these community businesses to thrive.” 

Mike Benner, CAMRA chief executive, said: “There is a pressing need for the Government to support community pubs and other local services, which is why CAMRA has praised moves by Nigel Adams MP to bring forward a new Parliamentary Bill with the potential to empower local communities threatened with the loss of local landmarks such as the pub. 

“Such potentially groundbreaking legislation could help to redress the current crippling UK pub closures, but there is still a huge amount of work to be done to prevent rural communities from losing their irreplaceable social hubs.”

Part of the problem is the ‘Tesco-isation’ of every aspect of our lives. Cheap booze, cheap tellies, microwave curries. Many people now prefer to sit indoors sipping a chardonnay and munching their microwave dinners, watching strictly or updating Facebook – rather than spend a couple of hours in the pub actually talking to people. Pubs are under threat because they can’t compete on price with the supermarkets. But they can compete as a social hub – and we don’t really want to bring about the redundancy of face to face human interaction.

Over the years many pubs have gone; The Wheatsheaf (house), The Barley Mow (flats), The Dragon (house), The Fitzwilliam Arms (now Fratellis). The by-pass has reduced passing trade but the population of the village can still sustain two pubs.

I have it on good authority that one of our two remaining pubs could close if the lack of use continues. And the first to complain when it goes will be those that live locally but never involve themselves in village life and visit the pub once a year for a Christmas pint.

So – use it or lose it.


‘Dogging’ developments

Local government in Peterborough
Image via Wikipedia


Peterborough City Council is digging into its coffers to provide road surface improvements for Splash Lane. According to natural networks project officer James Fisher the Council has received various complaints about the current state of the road surface down there. 

The Council plans to level the surface of the byway and tarmac it from the Woodlands entrance to the Nene Park Trust car park. Apparently, the Nene Park Trust has plans of its own to improve the surface of the car park – possibly tarmacing it, erecting a gate and height barrier and hedgerow management. 

A height barrier will be needed because the suggested improvements will make this an ideal location for travellers, who will not be able to access the Ferry Hill car park once a height barrier and gates are erected there, to pitch-up in their vans and turn it into the usual shit hole, which will cost the City Council even more cash to clean up when they are finally moved on. At least the travellers will keep the doggers away. 

Well known locally as a spot for dogging, a nice new surface on the car park will mean that exhibitionists won’t get their high heels and brothel creepers muddy. And neatly trimmed bushes will give voyeurs a better view. However, the Trust is monitoring the use of the car park and considering its long-term future. There are of course other people who use the car park – ramblers, anglers and so on and their wishes should be considered. 

This is a country by-way. The volume of traffic using it and consequently the number of complaints regarding the state of the road surface must be small. Save on our council tax by filling in the potholes and re-surfacing the lane with crushed stone – the suggested treatment for the lane beyond the car park – and ensure that it retains the character of a country lane not a city centre car park. 

Morris dancers keep it real

Watching Chels get beaten by Man City I thought I was going deaf; or at least suffering from a bad case of tinnitus. All I could hear was a strange ringing in my ears.

Then I realised that the pub was hosting the Peterborough Morris Dancers Day of Dance. Far more entertaining than a lack lustre Chelsea performance.

Peterborough Morris, The Kings Men, The Foresters Morris Men and The Heganeth Morris Men were all in attendance.

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Shine on Harvest Moon

An 18th century engraving of a Celtic wicker man.
Image via Wikipedia


It’s the autumnal equinox, when the sun rises directly in the east and sets directly in the West. The hours of daylight and darkness are almost equal. This year it’s a special one because the Harvest Moon, the full moon closest to the equinox, coincides with it for the first time in 19 years – and it won’t happen again until 2029.  

The harvest moon is so-called because it gives a longer run of moonlight than usual, lengthening the time farmers had to get their harvests in during successive days of the full moon. It also appears larger in the sky than full moons at other times of the year because it hangs lower in the sky due to the Earth’s tilt.  

Legends and customs surrounding the equinox and the harvest moon abound. It has its roots in the druidic lore of the Celts. This was the time of year they celebrated in honour The Green Man, the God of the Forest, by offering libations to the trees. Following the equinox the descent into winter brings hours of increasing darkness and chill temperatures as night conquers day.  It’s also a period of balanced day and night of the equinox.  

Harvest Home was a time to reflect on the past season and celebrate nature’s bounty and accept the end of summer. It marked a time of rest after hard work, and a ritual of thanksgiving for the fruits of nature – a time to look back on the achievements of the past year and to plan for the future. The last load of corn would be brought home as the harvesters sang the harvest home song. The farmer would provide a supper for the labourers.  

In some areas Crying the Neck would take place. The last sheaf of corn – the neck – was held up by the ‘harvest lord’ who would shout ‘I have it, I have it, I have it.’ The harvesters would ask: ‘What have ee? what have ee? what have ee?’ The harvest leader’s reply was ‘The neck, the neck, the neck,’ so making it clear that the farm had its harvest home.  

Another custom was to make corn dollies from the last sheaf. A female symbol of the Corn Spirit these would be carried atop the final load and kept in the house to protect the inhabitants from bad spirits during the long winter. There used to be a few hanging up in the Royal Oak – made by a local farmer – now long gone.  

The Celts believed the sun or the corn spirit was trapped in the corn and needed to be set free. The corn dolly or ‘wicker man’ effigy was usually burned in celebration of the harvest and the ashes would be spread on the fields. This annual sacrifice of a large wicker man (representing the corn spirit) is thought by many to have been the origin of the misconception that Druids made human sacrifices. We all know what happened to Edward Woodward in the cult chiller The Wicker Man though.  

The Christian Church replaced Pagan equinox and solstice celebrations with Christianised ones such as Michaelmas and Christmas. The harvest festival as we know it originated in Cornwall when, in October 1843 the Rev R S Hawker set aside a day to thank God for the harvest.  

It’ll be too cloudy to see the moon tonight but have look out anyway, you might be lucky.