Sat 30th March 2013

People often ask me about stags losing their antlers and this is the time of year when it happens here on Exmoor. Last year the first find that was recorded was on 10th March and I’ve heard about several so far this year.

Only four days ago I was told about someone finding a massive pair in the middle of the road at Barbrook, near Lynton. What an amazing thing that must have been to come across. I expect the stag jumped down onto the road with a bit of a thud and they both fell off. The antlers each had five points on top so we know the stag would be around ten or eleven years old and a good sized animal.

I used to believe that a stag grew one extra point a year but I now know this isn’t always true. It can depend on what they are eating, you see. I heard about one stag that was helping himself to peasant feed and grew three points in one year. Must be good stuff that peasant feed.

The antlers don’t usually fall off together so it’s far more common to find just one. When someone finds an antler they often go off searching for the second one, hoping it’s somewhere nearby. It’s not an easy task though as a stag can cover a lot of ground in a short time and will be passing over rough moorland or maybe through woodland. 

It can be a competitive business antler hunting, with people going out very early morning with a torch to search areas where they know stags have been seen. The antlers are prized possessions and are also worth a lot of money.

About a week after the antlers have fallen new ones start to grow. They are black and covered in soft velvet. They take about three month to grow fully and then the stag starts to rub off the velvet. He does this on tree trunks and it can do a lot of damage to the tree. If the bark is rubbed off all the way around the tree might even die. This is one of the reasons deer herds need to be managed and numbers regulated.

It’s always great to see all the wildlife in our countryside but it does have an impact on the land and sometimes this can become a real problem.

You know how much I love watching and filming the wild boar but the farmer’s don’t like them as they dig up the ground and are very destructive on farmland. There’s quite a lot of shooting goes on to try and keep the numbers down. I can’t blame the farmers as I’ve seen what a few wild boar can do to a field. I suspect there are people after the meat as well.

That’s the way it is in the country but I do get upset when I hear about animals being badly wounded but not killed outright, as I do all too frequently. Responsible shooting is about using the right gun, the right ammunition and finishing the animal off as quickly and cleanly as possible.

While talking about the problems with the wild boar, we should also perhaps remember that they are only out there around these parts because someone thought it a good idea to sabotage the fences securing farmed animal and release them into the wild.

I must give you an update on the wrens roosting in the nesting box. They’ve broken no records this year but there have been five in there the last two nights when I’ve checked. That’s four years running that they’ve used it as I was given the box for my 70th birthday and I turned 74 last month. It’s so lovely to see them and I hope they keep coming back for many more years.

I started my Exmoor safaris this month and have had some good day’s out with lots to see. Some dates are already fully booked but others still have a few spaces left so do have a look on the ‘Safaris’ page soon if you’d like to join me this year.

Earlier this month I was able to do something special for someone. I was contacted about a lovely man from Redruth down in Cornwall called John Carter. Very ill with cancer, John’s last wish was to go out on safari with me. He came up to North Devon and we went out on Exmoor together. We had a wonderful day despite him being so ill.

Before he left, John presented me with a beautiful book about the mammals of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It’s about three inches thick and full of plate photos each covered with a sheet of tissue paper. The book is about a hundred years old but full of amazing information. I’ve already learnt a lot from reading it.

Sadly, John passed away shortly after his visit. He was such a nice man and I was glad I was able to fulfil his wish for him. I will really treasure the book and pass it on to someone who will appreciate it just as much as me when my time comes.

Well, we have some dry weather at last and some sunshine even though it’s bitterly cold. A friend of mine in Barnstaple thinks the pair of robins nesting in her hedge are feeding young already. So, keep your eyes open. There’s a lot going on just in your back garden at this time of year. God bless now and I’ll catch you again next month.