Major: But they spread disease, Fawlty… he was sitting there on that table, eating the nuts if you please.
At the north end of the marsh, on the far side of Hoo Brook, is the near vertical bank that forms part of the southern boarder of the busy Hoo Brook Industrial Estate. The bank is covered with a mishmash of trees and bushes, and various bits of mouldering, rotting and rusty industrial detritus from the businesses above; it looks a battle ground if truth be told. It is not without interest, though, being pitted with holes and crevices of many shapes, sizes and depths, some of which are home to small critters. If you are prepared to wait long and quietly enough with your eyes peeled, you might witness wildlife erupting from the ground right in front of your very eyes.
The businesses along the marsh edge of Hoo Brook Industrial Estate include a fast food outlet, metal fabricator, heavy vehicle dealer, cars sales and a household waste recycling centre. A little further west, at the outflow of the brook into the River Stour, is a water pumping station feeding a sewage plant half a mile downstream on the higher west bank of the Stour.
On the marsh side, and parallel to Hoo Brook Industrial Estate, between Wilden Lane and the River Stour, is the new Hoo Brook pasture, the swamp, and the new riverside pasture.
Whilst checking the Hoo Brook pasture fencing recently, at the Wilden Lane end, I heard a small animal squeal. A lone rat exploded from the bank and rocketed through the air as if it had been fired from a cannon; it fell with a loud plop into the brook and was immediately carried downstream by the current. Another rat quickly followed, but on a higher trajectory; it too plopped into the brook and quickly swam away.
A ball of squealing and rapidly tumbling fur emerged from a tangle of undergrowth, only to disappear again amongst the leaf litter within a matter of a few seconds. I quickly focused my 10 x 50s just in time to see the furball reemerge a little further along the bank to my left. It soon became clear that an unfortunate fat rat had managed to become attached to a ferocious mink.The mink clung on with all paws; its jaws clamped tightly on the rat’s neck.
The episode ended with the mink dragging the dead or paralysed rat under a bush, to eat presumably.
If it wasn’t for foxes, ferrets, polecats, domestic cats, weasels and mink, we might be overrun with rats; as it is, I rarely see them on the marsh. However, I do see rat paw prints on mud banks along the river and brook.
As a teenager, one of my varied hobbies was ratting. With my terrier and my polecats, and sometimes friends and their dogs, we had great times disposing of these horrible, often grossly fat, and potentially disease ridden creatures. Some people might think it cruel to hunt rats with dogs, but it is probably one of the most humane and effective ways of controlling vermin. After all, rats are predated by animals all the time.
If you are at all interested in how efficient terriers are at dealing with rats, watch this video: https://youtu.be/pWRsnYscv30 But be warned! Don’t watch if you are at all squeamish!
I view rats as food – not for me – for the marsh predators, and they are doing a reasonable job at controlling both rats and rabbits. It’s better if everything is in balance; it never is, but it’s a good ideal.