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Red in Tooth and Claw. The contradictory nature of landscaping in a Worcestershire garden

One of the great joys about being a landscape gardener is that I discover something new every day. My profession is in part a contradiction: as a landscaper I exist to tame gardens or to arrange them from scratch. But gardens are composed of wild things. Wild things grow. They are dynamic. They interact and they compete. And sometimes, they bite.

This afternoon for example, I just returned from lunch to a Worcestershire garden to find a magpie enjoying the culinary treat that is very rare baby rabbit. I had seen the rabbits in the morning, where the long grass under the birch trees meets the freshly cut lawn, joyously running about and nibbling before fleeing the sight of me. But this afternoon, one of the herd would not be re-joining the warren. But did the magpie actually kill the rabbit or was it something else? (I’ve seen them take live mice and rats before, but a rabbit?) My curiosity piqued, I investigated the grisly sight more closely.

Sparing you the CSI details, the body was still intact and the magpie had only begun to pluck the fur from the belly. If a fox had taken it, there would have been far more damage. And it had only been killed in the last hour or so, since I had left this particular garden for my lunch.

I packed up my things and left the rabbit where it was. As I left the garden, the magpie was now joined by its mate, each pecking at it in turn as the other kept a lookout. Yet even as I watched, the familiar ‘Gronk’ call of the raven signalled the arrival of a newer, bigger garden beast. The magpies were driven off whilst two ravens took their fill. One of them ate, its hooked bill more suitable for the carrion than the magpies, and the other one ‘cawed’ away, inches from the butcher. And then I realised that the second one must have been its offspring, screaming at its parent for food.

Strange to admit, but the sight of that cheered me. As a landscaper, I am a conservationist at heart, working in gardens, taming the wild areas for a short time, but never ignorant of what conservation actually means: letting the natural world remain natural, with all its many bloodied teeth and red-stained claws. It was something that was imparted to be by an old mentor: “A good landscape gardener works with nature, and never against it.”

Interesting Fact: Ravens are one of the few animals that actually make their own toys by breaking twigs of branches to play with socially! (Professor Heinrich, Mind of the Raven, 1997).

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