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May 2023: "From A New Forest Inclosure” by Ian Thew

Over the years we and our forebears have been guilty of inflicting some serious damage to our flora and fauna.  The introduction of alien species, whether intentional or by inadvertent escapism, has caused the decline and even extinction of many animals, plants and birds. My arch enemy the grey squirrel, which has had a devastating effect on our native red squirrel population, is a classic example; so, too, is that other American invader, the mink, which has populated our rivers and streams, having been released from fur farms by well intentioned but ignorant ‘bunny huggers’, causing a disastrous decline in the numbers of our delightful little water voles and fish stocks.  And it doesn’t end there, oh no!  Muntjac deer are destroying our bluebell woods, ring-necked parakeets are wreaking havoc around the streets and parks in London, terrapins and bull frogs are chomping our fish whilst Indian or Himalayan Balsam is marching steadily along our waterways, relentlessly choking our native vegetation as it goes.  The list goes on and I’m not going to bore you with more examples; but it’s no wonder, with this abundance of unusual species, that errors in identification can occur. 

Let me tell you a little story that will illustrate one such mistake.  There once was a lovely lady who lived in the centre of Southampton, within easy walk of the high street with its shops and all the conveniences that you would associate with city life.  If she was still with us, she would be the first to admit that she was an out and out ‘Townie’ and extremely comfortable with her lot until, that is, she met and married her husband, a Countryman by any other name, who dragged her away from her life within the city streets and into a totally new environment, here in our beautiful New Forest. 

Now, the lady in question, was a sensible woman and, once she had recovered from the shock of such an extreme change in lifestyle, she adopted the ‘if you can’t beat them then join them’ philosophy and set about the task of familiarising herself with country life.  She immediately took riding lessons and soon became a competent horsewoman and horse owner; she followed her husband in his many country pursuits and took note of everything that was going on around her. And, slowly but surely, she learned the names of many of the birds and animals that she encountered in her new life. 

It became her habit, each morning before she set off to work in the big city, to walk her dogs in the woods that surrounded her new home. On one such morning she returned home in a state of great excitement and, finding her husband talking to the New Forest keeper on whose beat she lived, announced that she had just encountered a huge skunk!! The husband and the keeper looked at each other in amazement as she went on to explain that the dogs had disturbed it and harried it from some bushes, whereupon it had headed straight towards her, stopping only a yard or so from her feet before charging off in the opposite direction.  The husband asked her to describe the creature and she replied that it was big and black with white stripes. He reached for a book and turned the pages until he found what he was looking for which, of course, was a picture of a badger.  She looked at the illustration and blushed with embarrassment and apologised for her stupidity and ignorance.  The keeper, who was a kindly man, disagreed with her by saying that he could never think of her as a stupid woman but would always remember her as the only person, ever, who had spotted a skunk in the New Forest!! 

Must go now - before I make a mistake, too.       

Ian Thew 

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