Columnist Mindy Hammond calls a tree surgeon

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You may recall I joked recently about the chickens subletting their houses to our wild rabbit population. Well, many a true word is said in jest…Chicken Woods had become more than a little overgrown over the years and it was most noticeable this summer when the trees were in full foliage. Many of them had a mere sprinkling of leaves at the very top and others resembled a collection of sticks stuck to a wizened trunk. 

Our bizarre little wooded area was full of everything from rowan and cherry trees to numerous spindly plane trees and a big sycamore (whose seeds are toxic to horses).

The canopy was very thick – all the trees were so packed in, they reached for the light and focused all their energy on growing their topknots which meant, from a distance, the place looked like a small patch of Amazon rainforest. But on the ground below, the chickens and their friends were living in such deep shade the grass refused to grow and they needed table lamps to read even during daylight hours.

The pretty little cherry trees, which had been favourites with the wild birds, had both wheezed to an untimely end. The poor old apple tree, once the home to a little owl, hadn’t borne fruit for many years and been put up for let. Though several squirrels had viewings, even they refused to move into the ex-owl haunt.

A few weeks back we were struck by high winds and although Queenie the turkey never ventures out from her palatial house, I had managed to tie her door open (just so she could watch the excitement). I had walked a few steps when “whomp” a big branch fell from the tree above, just missing my shoulder and knocking her door partly off its hinges.

I’ve never seen her move so quickly. She threw herself backwards on to her bed and, with legs akimbo, sat in a heap with her beak open, panting with fright.

A drop of rescue remedy, a few soothing words and a handful of mealworms and we both recovered nicely, but the writing was on the wall for our unstable trees.

The tree surgeon came and inspected the area. I shadowed him, biting my nails, feeling like I was about to be given bad news after an in-depth medical. He took a deep breath and told me the verdict. It wasn’t good.

Most of the trees were being cramped to death and it was too late for some. Drastic action was needed. He checked for bird nests, peered upwards, tapped a few trunks and fetched the dreaded spray can. Gulp.

I watched as the yellow cross of doom was sprayed on the condemned and shuddered. I knew we were doing the right thing, but even so, nobody likes to chop down trees.

“Trust me, there’s nothing special in there and you’ll be saving more than you’re losing,” he assured me.

“And didn’t you say you were planting loads in the autumn?”

“Well, yes, but… Oh, I hate the sound of a chainsaw,” I told him.

I moved all the chicken houses well out of the way and hid when the work started, but what a transformationby the end of the day. We could see sky; the sun shone so brightly the hens were reaching for their factor 50.

True, there were a few sad-looking stumps where there were once trees, but there was also a mound of wood chippings which the hens enjoyed foraging through for insects.

A few days later, I was putting the chooks to bed when I noticed a tunnel had been dug in the mound of chippings. A hedgehog perhaps? I looked closer and a little furry face appeared. It was a baby rabbit. I scooped it up, worried it might be injured, but it was healthy, as was its littermate who popped out to say “hello”.

I put the babies back in their unusual burrow and leant a piece of wood loosely across the opening; big enough for mama rabbit to get in but hopefully concealing their hiding place from Mr Fox.

The new Chicken Woods is a great success. The rabbits absolutely love it; bunny creche has been very busy, and although the babies are bigger now, they still come to visit from their entrance under the back of Romeo’s field shelter. The goats think they have a new playground and last night I even heard our little owl.

Those hens aren’t just subletting to rabbits, they’re becoming property moguls. 

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