Top 10 Weird and wonderful Walsham wildlife ‘facts’

Since living and working on the Wey I have observed lots of behaviour I wasn’t expecting to see (often human but largely wildlife related) and in the course of my historical research I have also come across some oddities. While in my mind they are all ‘facts’ I don’t think my ecology professor would necessarily support either my scientific methodology or hypotheses. That said

1 – Tawny owls have favourite chimnies. Whether it is view or temperature related, my local tawny only sits and hoots down my north facing chimney. Regardless of whether the fire is lit or unlit in the other one she never sits on it.

2 – Badgers don’t like fireworks. This is a very recent and I suppose obvious ‘discovery’ but the nightly damage to my lockside grass at Walsham in their hunt for food stopped for the few days around the local bonfire night festivities…… Unless that means that they like do them, and were actually too busy finding good vantage points for the displays to come and dig up my turf.

3 – Foxes, mice, voles and rescue terriers called Badger are flagrant abusers of door etiquette. They are the most common users of my hedgehog door, which has so far, to my knowledge, not been used by a hedgehog although I know they are about. A retired former teacher I know, who is much cleverer than me, puts it down to a low literacy rate amongst local hedgehogs. 

4 – Otters were so common at Walsham in 1864 shooting 3 of them was celebrated in the newspaper. They were somewhat ungenerously described as ‘destructive enemies of the finny tribe’. ( I looked that up, it just means fish like ) While there are now otters elsewhere on the Wey, they are now sadly absent on my stretch. I do get regular reports of otter sightings from walkers and anglers but unfortunately they are all pesky American mink who I would definitely describe as destructive enemies of the water voley tribe.

5 – Weasels, deer and badgers all regularly use people bridges. As in bridges built for not of people. I’ve seen them all happily do it. Some Labradors ( you know who you are Bertie ) however are much less keen, having to surrender their sticks and virtually crawl over as low to the ground as they can get themselves before being reunited with their stick by their kind owner following their miraculous survival of the twice daily perilous crossing

6 – In 1918 25,000 baby eels were sent by rail from the river Severn to Byfleet station having been born in North Atlantic and made the transatlantic portion of their journey under their own steam. They were to be ‘placed in rivers, ponds, canals etc.’ in the local area, including the Wey. The plan was they would be used raised and used for food. At one time around half of all freshwater fish caught in the UK by weight were eels, now they are considered endangered. The descendants of these, and others who made their own way here naturally, are thankfully still doing well on the Wey.

7 – Chaffinch stealing used to be a thing. In 1944 a gentleman was fined 10 shillings for ‘taking 4 cock chaffinches with the intention of selling them alive’ near the pub just down the towpath. He clearly made a business at it, or tried to. He was caught with 2 cages in his possession and a ‘stuffed bird made up to represent a chaffinch in the grass’. This must have been considered a good place to find them as the misguided chap had travelled all the way from Islington in North London to undertake his bird rustling activities.

8 – Bats seem to like flying in circles in red arrow type precision flying display, always anti-clockwise. When the outside lights are on on the cottage on a summer evening they circle it at heart-stopping speed. While I appreciate that moths and other flying food are attracted by the light they could easily circle back after the first pass the other way, in clear air but always choose to buzz the rooftops instead.

9 – Ernie the oak tree has been watching over Walsham lock since he was an acorn in about the 1690s. I measured his girth the other day at over 6 metres, which according to the magic circumference convertor calculator makes him around 330. He hasn’t always been called Ernie, that’s my fault because he is next to Eric the bridge, but he doesn’t seem to mind. That means he was a mere sapling during the Spanish Inquisition, Salem witch trials, the death of Queen Mary II and the opening of St Paul’s Catherdral. Boggling.

10 – Ex- Battersea resident staffy crosses don’t appreciate having their photos taken in festive attire.

However many biscuits you bribe them with they just won’t talk to you. Despite the pained expression I can assure you that no dogs were harmed in the pursuit of this underwhelming festive photo. Happy Christmas!