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Our third pond finally passes the broody wild duck test; IT'S A WILDLIFE PARADISE AT OUR SMALLHOLDER'S PLACE AT THE MOMENT, BUT NOT ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUALLY WELCOME.

Byline: LIZ SHANKLAND

IT'S a long time since I've had ducks. I started off with a handful of fluffy little babies, bought impetuously at auction in the days when I could be easily tempted into a bidding frenzy. It didn't take long until the place was over-run by Indian runner ducks, which quickly devastated the wildlife pond we had created, clearing away every scrap of vegetation and leaving a big clay crater.

To make matters worse, gradually, the fox took all the females, leaving us with just five randy drakes which spent each day during the breeding season in a dreadful muddle, each one trying to work out which of the group was the girl.

Eventually, Gerry decided they had to go, and made me promise never to buy any more. The only ducks I've seen here since have been wild mallards, popping in to feed and mooch about. Although they have been visiting for a few years, none of the pairs has seemed keen to stay for long. But, at the weekend, out of the long grass trotted a proud mother and her 10 youngsters.

It's a great sight to see, as she teaches them all the basics of duck life, and it's good to know that our third pond - which has taken Gerry about five years of on-and-off excavation and landscaping - has finally passed the duck test.

It's looking pretty good now, with lots of pond plants like yellow flag sprouting in clumps around the edges and providing cover for the new arrivals. It's early days yet, but the water clarity is good, considering it's a relatively new pond, though I'm not ruling out a green blanket appearing at some time over the summer months.

Being able to see wildlife all around - and so many different species at different times of the year - is something for which I am always grateful. Back in April, the swallows and house martins arrived, and they are now treating me to their frantic aerobatic displays - soaring, diving, loop-the-looping and terrifying the dogs as they swoop down over their heads. A great vantage point is the bedroom, on the third floor of the house, where they glance really closely past the windows, oblivious to the fact that I'm right the other side, literally getting a bird's eye view of the proceedings.

Not all birds are so welcome at this time of the year, however. The crows and magpies are still managing to snaffle the chickens' food and sneak into their coop to steal their eggs. And whatever has torn all the cherries off my tree - yet again - is living on borrowed time.

I keep saying I'm going to throw a net over the top, but never do. The same thing happens every year - before any of the cherries get the chance to ripen, they are snatched away, leaving just stalks.

It's my own fault, I know. Prevention is better than cure. This winter I'm gong to coppice the tree to make it a more manageable height to net. Then the little thieving blighters can look out.

Gerry takes a rather different view of animals that cross his path and annoy him. He is determined to catch a fox that we have seen prowling around, and he is planning to sit in the LandRover with a shotgun and an old Army net over his head until he bags it. I think it's a bit of a pointless task, because another one will just take over the territory, but Gerry is a man on a mission.

To humour his obsession, I bought him a little present the other day - a fox caller. Apparently, when you blow it, the device makes a sound like a rabbit in distress and the fox thinks it's in for an easy dinner.

It must be said that Gerry's track record for gunning down Public Enemy No. 1 isn't that great. The number of foxes he has killed over the years is miniscule compared to the number of nights he has sat in the Landy trying to look inconspicuous.

Perhaps the miraculous fox caller will give him the help he needs. I'm not holding my breath, though.

Liz Shankland is the author of The Practical Guide to Buying and Running a Smallholding in Wales (University of Wales Press, pounds 17.99). You can e-mail her at downtoearthliz@hotmail.co.uk

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The happy family of mallards which are enjoying the clear water and cover around the pond's edge
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 8, 2010
Words:748
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