Living with wildlife

Farming with wildlife 

I'm writing this introduction with grubby hands, bags under my eyes, and one ear (okay, both ears) listening for a maniac chirp from the living room window, that means that Fishtail the Idiot lyrebird has decided his reflection is about to attack again, and is going into his warning dance.

        

Chin down, tail up, one foot out and then the next, chirp and warble, chirp and warble, with a few fairly boring bird imitations thrown in - the odd kookaburra, a golden whistler, and that's about it. Some lyrebirds I've known have been stunning musicians. Not Fishtail. He's got far more testosterone than musical talent.

        

I've just come indoors from sweeping up the latest mess from Fishtail's giant feet (if you think chooks can cause havoc on in a garden, you've never lived with lyrebirds). I also replaced the remnants of the doormat back under the doorstep where it belongs(Mothball the wombat chewed it up last night in revenge for failing to leave carrots out for her. She also chewed up my gumboots).

        

And the bags under my eyes are due to the four- I repeat four- swallows nests constructed under the eaves about three inches away from my pillow. The nestlings wake up at 5.20 am and demand to be fed, and as I don't have any handy dead flies to stuff down their gullets and shut them up, I get up too.

        

I have a feeling people reading this will now be divided into two camps

a) those who think I'm crazy to complain about living in close proximity to wombats, lyrebirds, swallows and the black tailed wallaby who has just jumped the fence and is nibbling my favourite Papa Meilland rose(deep red and wonderfully stinky); and

b) those who think I'm crazy to put up with it; why don't I get a shot gun, or at least a couple of territory guarding dogs, plus an electric fence and some bird scaring guns.

        

I'm not sentimental about animals. If I were starving, or if humans had left more than a few small corners for wildlife, I'd happily eat the lyrebirds in my garden.(Long slow roasting, with plenty of basting and rich stuffing- I suspect their meat would be a bit like peacock's, dry but full of flavour.)

        

In fact I'd rather eat the lyrebirds in my garden than some poor beast who has lived through a week of slow hell before it's death in an abattoir.

        

But I do choose to live with wildlife. I have spent more than half my life, now, working out ways that crops and gardens can still be grown without either killing them or- just as bad- displacing them.

        

This is what this is about- ways that humans can co exist with animals.

        

Why? Why do I put up with wallabies in the corn, instead of reaching for the shotgun, like most of my neighbours.

        

Why don't I live with a nice obedient Pekinese instead of a wombat who has never even considered how to please a human in her life?

        

Why, for that matter, have so many generations of humans put out food for wild birds, spent precious dollars taking an elderly dog to the vet, bought the one expensive cat food that their moggie will deign to eat, all for no obvious return?

        

The answer is, of course, that humans need animals. The need to live with animals is something I think that goes very deep into the basis of the human character. We too are animals, and if we recreate our world to be entirely human, then we will lose a great part of ourselves.

        

I want to be part of a world of animals. And that is why I have written this.

OUR GARDEN

 

(note: this is the 'collective our'- I'm just one of the owners)

        

I don't know who lives in 'our' garden. I've never done a census - not a complete one anyway.

        

Our garden is about an acre round the house. It (mostly) feeds us and totally feeds countless other species, with gifts to friends as well.(Humans too)

        

I know there are wombats in our garden because there are droppings on the doormat every morning, not to mention teeth marks in the door. Wombats are determined creatures and capable of chewing through a door in two or three nights which is just one reason why we have a stainless steel sheet bolted to our back door. Luckily our house is made of granite rocks and even wombats can't chew through granite.

        

I also know we have wombats because we chat with them, play with them, watch them and sometimes release one brought up by WIRES back into our garden so they can learn to be wombats again before returning to the bush.

        

I know we have wallabies in the garden because they eat the corn, carrots and lower branches of the apple trees - and usually most of the roses.

        

I know we have an echidna because it works hard every summer sticking its nose in the paving stones hunting for ants.

        

I know we have bull ants too because they ran up my gum boots and stung me a few years ago.

        

In fact if I go on like this I'll take up all the book (publishers put very strict limits onto the length of most books). Suffice to say that we have the above plus roos, at least six species of snake, seven species of lizard including a giant goanna who gets drunk on fermented peaches, 127 species of birds, some resident and some just droppers in, at least three species of frogs, five species of wasp, eight species of spider, five species of ants (and more just outside the garden) - in fact who knows how many species of insect. One survey of an average English garden found 40,00 species, most microscopic and we probably have a good many more than that.

        

Last night we played 'bump' with a baby wombat (its mother is Lurk from the bottom of the garden... but I'd better stop before I get carried away by wombats). This morning we watched the yellow robins feed their foster offspring in the nest in the rose bush outside the kitchen, and the eastern spine bill taste the first flowers from the new grevillea I put in last year to see if they were good (they are). The bowerbirds are performing acrobatics in the apple trees and yesterday we fed a lizard just a crumb of leftover turkey - it took half an hour to coax it but it took it from Bryan's fingers. Then there was the time we watched a blue tongue crunching snails and a snake dislocate its jaws to eat the frog and the bright green frog on the window last Tuesday with its tongue flicking at the moths. We must have watched it for half an hour.

        

The animals in our garden aren't pets - not even the baby wombats we play jump and bite with (that's a game all baby wombats play, brought up by humans or not. They hide behind a bush and leap out at you and knock you off your feet. Then you have to hide behind a bush and leap out at them; but enough of wombats.)

        

The animals here are fellow inhabitants. Most have got used to us just as we have got used to them. (There are exceptions. The echidna is still nervous of us. And I get a little edgy too when I meet a brown snake.)

        

The world would be boring if it was inhabited only by humans and their pets and useful species. Not just boring - I think we would lose our souls.

        

I'm not sure what a soul is. But it is an essential part of being human. And being human we evolved with other species and with trees and flowers and myriad living things. I know that when I am in cities, surrounded by only humans and their products, I find life very simple. There are only the complexities of one species, not 100,000. Possibly there is a moral reason to share my garden. But mostly I do it for myself because without the others in my garden, I would be less.

© Jackie French