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

I quote from the ‘birdwatch’ web site: ‘Most birders probably have a mental list of their favourite birds but, if they had an equivalent one for their most frustrating, I bet Goshawk Accipiter Gentilis would feature quite highly. Despite the fact that it has increased significantly in Britain in recent years, it remains difficult to see’, Well let me tell you Matey, whoever you are who wrote that, if any of your frustrated readers want to see a goshawk then all they’ve got to do is pop down to our house, here in the New Forest, and they’ll be able to get ‘up-close and personal’ with one! 

A week or two ago the Doting Owner of the Spoilt Pony and would-be chicken farmer noticed that one of her bantams was missing and, quite naturally, she laid the blame, fairly and squarely, at the door of Charlie Fox; until, that is, one of our guests, a few days later, told how she had seen a buzzard take yet another bantam from the ancient woodland beyond our boundary.  When told of this sighting, I was sceptical; buzzards are not renowned as woodland hunters and my thoughts immediately focused on the possibility that it could, in fact, be a goshawk.  The very next day another bantam did a vanishing trick and this time I managed to find, in the lower paddock and on the edge of the trees, a poignant scattering of feathers to mark her passing.  The presence of a marauding goshawk was becoming more of a reality! A week or so went by without further incident and the chickens and bantams continued to roam in peace until, - wait for it -, the murderer struck again and this time there was no mistaking its identity.  Another visitor, an experienced ‘birder’, was beside himself with delight when he told me that he had spotted, not an hour before, his very first goshawk; the only problem being that it was on our lawn and was in the process of dining-out on one of our large Rhode Island/Light Sussex, laying hens!!  There was no mistaking his sighting for he produced both a photograph of the raptor on the aforementioned lawn and an old, paper, feed bag, wherein was the shredded corpse of the hapless hen. 

Now I’m a keen birdwatcher, as most of you will know, and the goshawk is a superb piece of powerful, aerodynamic, hunting machinery; similar in size to a buzzard, but with the ability to fly at speed through woodland and forest, it is a highly efficient killer.  The text books tell us that because of persecution and deforestation it became all-but extinct, in this country, about two hundred years ago, until, that is, some bright sparks decided, in the 1970’s, to re-introduce the species. Now here’s the rub! These goshawk-huggers couldn’t find any British birds – well, they were extinct, weren’t they, so they trotted over to Finland and brought back the next best thing – or so they thought.  The Scandinavian goshawks are much larger than our original native species; in fact they are thumping-great brutes but, notwithstanding this, they settled down and began to breed and, of course, to hunt and feed. 

Now, things have changed during the past two hundred years and the wisdom in importing these super-killers into our Forest of today, has to be questioned – is there enough food for them?  Will they be as successful as the red kite and become a nuisance to many? Only time will tell. 

But, what next? We’ve made some awful faux-pas over the last century or so and the spread of the grey squirrel and the demise of our native red is a prime example. Perhaps the re-introduction of the grey wolf or the brown bear would be a good idea? At least, that would, perhaps, go some way to resolving the wiggling, cyclist dilemna!! 

Be very, very careful out there!

Ian Thew 

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