Newsletter of the College Valley Estate Issue 5 • SUMMER 2015
A close eye on squirrels there was much celebration into the night at the Tankerville Arms. At midnight, the Wooler Police Sergeant took it upon himself to drive a slightly incoherent Gilbert back to Hethpool. At 6.30am, Gilbert deposited a distinctly bleary-eyed Police Sergeant outside the Police Station in Wooler. One weekend I took my young children to camp at Goldscleugh. Before long the son of the Goldscleugh shepherd, Willie Junior, appeared and demanded to see my vehicle permit. I told him I didn’t have one, whereupon he insisted I pack up and leave. I told him that I actually signed the permits myself. After much confusion and apologies, he disappeared back to the cottage and reappeared on the burn side with a bottle of whisky. Off he went with my small son and daughter and within ten minutes joined me with delighted children and two beautiful 2lb sea trout. A quick lesson in filleting followed, my children’s eyes on stalks. In no time the fish were in a frying pan over the open fire – we had a wonderful supper and talked into the night until the whisky was finished. When I started my career in College Valley, farming and forestry were the only enterprises supporting the estate. Over my 42 years the emphasis has broadened to encompass environmental outcomes, tourism, holiday cottages, engaging with the public as well as farming and forestry. Directors, each with their own expertise and strengths, have come and gone and I believe that the estate is far stronger and more diverse now than when I first set foot in the valley. Charles Baker Cresswell, chairman for a number of years, was a great driver for change to meet the requirements of the 21st century. We had much fun together achieving this. His son John, the present chairman, continues in this tradition. At Goldscleugh, on the hillside below a group of ancient and gnarled broadleaved trees, some of my wife Jane’s and my working Labradors, who gave us so much pleasure out on the heather hills, are buried (a hard dig!). They gaze down one of the most beautiful valleys in the country, a valley I have been privileged to be part of for over 42 years. It is now time to stand down at the end of this year and hand over the reins to younger and sharper brains. Perhaps one day, with my dogs, I too will gaze down this unique and lovely valley. www.college-valley.co.uk
rin Barritt, an undergraduate zoology student at Newcastle University, spent two months in College Valley last summer studying its grey and red squirrels – and her report makes fascinating reading.
She set up 34 hair tubes and three baited trail cameras in order to gain an idea how many squirrels of each species lived in the valley, and how the less common reds could be best protected. The tubes and traps were used to survey 52 points in the valley. The hair tubes were 30cm lengths of drainpipe, wired to trees. A small strip of Velcro was attached to either end of the inside, and the tubes baited with sunflower seeds, maize and peanuts. Any squirrel entering the tube to get at the food would be bound to leave guard hairs (outer hairs) behind on the Velcro, allowing Erin to determine whether reds or greys, or both, had visited. Rather than relying on the hairs’ colour to identify squirrel species, a more reliable method was used – studying the shape of the hairs in cross section. A rounded cross section indicates a grey, while a compressed figure-of-eight cross section will have come from a red. The infra-red motion-sensitive cameras were attached to trees facing baited feeders
and were set to take a picture whenever movement was detected. Evidence was taken from eight points in the valley. Reds were found to live at Hethpool Bell Wood, Whitehall, Fawcett and Goldscleugh. Greys were found at Hethpool Bell Wood, Hethpool, Whitehall and Mount Hooley, and now pose a threat to the reds, Erin believes. Of the 52 points studied, only eight showed evidence of squirrels. Erin reports: “This low level of discovery could be due to the success of the vegetation and the high level of food availability over the sampling period, rendering bait less attractive to the squirrels. Although few individuals were detected, this probably does not reflect the true size of the population in the valley.” Erin’s advice is to continue controlling greys by live trapping and dispersal – moving them well away from the valley. Any reds found in the traps are released on the spot. Monitoring of the populations should continue, to assess where control efforts should be focused. Clearing areas of trees by felling should be avoided, as the disturbance can cause reds to disappear. She was sent a letter thanking her for her work and saying that her recommendations would be useful in formulating management policy for the woodlands.
News from the College Valley Estate in Northumberland.