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There is a saying in farming and crofting circles – if you have livestock then you will also have dead stock.
An inevitable side to breeding and rearing animals, even if you are rearing them for
eventual food production and a planned early despatch, is that you will have unplanned dead animals to deal with too.
It is never easy to deal with, whether from the financial hit a potential full-grown animal carries or simply the emotionally draining impact of a lost life.
The spectre of Foot and Mouth disease is still fresh enough in the minds of anyone able to recall 2007, along with the more recent poultry lockdowns of the last few years with threats of avian flu, to not feel a pang of fear when faced with an ailing animal.
Even those of us who do not keep livestock will have likely mourned the loss of a pet and anyone who enjoys a connection with nature will probably have a story of finding a baby bird fallen from a nest or an injured hedgehog in their garden.
In more urban areas there are often vets close by to take a found wild creature to, but here in the more rural parts of Lochaber we are more likely to encounter injured wildlife and less likely to have obvious support to deal with it.
In the last few weeks we have briefly hosted three injured birds. Two were from misjudged encounters with our lounge window from newly fledged birds. A blue tit and a greater spotted woodpecker. Both briefly stunned but able to be released soon afterwards.
A rather soggy and not long from the nest thrush also found its way into our house having been found after heavy rain looking bedraggled but uninjured. We popped it in a hanging basket out of the reach of our cats and not long afterwards, having dried off, it flew away.
We have also inadvertently played host to a couple of birds who entered the house via open windows. Thankfully they required little in the way of intervention to leave again, although they all left their tiny droppings as calling cards!
Rather more thrillingly, late one evening a bat, which must have come in during daylight hours and found a cosy corner to roost, awoke and began flying around the house just after midnight, creating a brief period of chaos as both our cats tried to catch it. We tried to encourage it out by opening all the doors, which had the unintended result of inviting even more midges into the house which encouraged the bat to linger longer.
Eventually it did leave. It didn’t take all the midges with it and it had not stayed quite long enough to consume them all before it went.
A rather sadder wildlife encounter happened this week though, when on a beach litter pick my daughter happened upon a seal pup. It was gorgeous, all wide eyes, twitchy whiskers and downy looking fur.
With no parent around and a skinny frame we decided it was worth reporting as a live stranding and so had conversations and photographic exchanges via telephone and email with Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Service (SMASS) and Scottish SPCA.
Unfortunately due to our rather remote location there were no available officers able to attend. We agreed to check the pup again later that evening and reported no change in location, condition or evidence of a returning mother and then promised to return again the following morning.
Sadly on this occasion the morning saw us reporting returning to find a dead seal pup. Although it was likely an inevitable conclusion having been abandoned by its mother – either due to her death or ill health, or its own – it was still a tough discovery and a hard phone call for us to make, and to receive for the officer we had been speaking with over the previous day and evening.
It has spurred us on to register to train as volunteers so that perhaps if there is a next time we feel more able to help, or indeed to be the local people someone else can call upon for help or advice.
Until then we will keep on valuing the thrill and magic of experiences and encounters
with animals even though some of them come at a price.