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Cats in the garden
A local cat has found my garden. It was only a matter of time, I suppose, after I had made the frogs, birds and mouse so welcome. And what a lure they must be, for the cat has to scale a six foot wall to reach them, as well as face my wrath each morning when I find it skulking around the plant pots.
I like cats, despite the havoc they wreak on wildlife. I don’t blame them for their murderous tendencies, and – touch wood – I’ve never experienced any using my garden as a litter tray. But I do worry about the creatures I’ve created a ‘safe’ haven for.
The UK is home to approximately 10.3 million cats. Together, they kill more than 200 million wild creatures each year, according to some estimates, including threatened dormice and bats. A two-year project, researching 250 cats living in suburban Reading, indicated that figure was lower than 200 million (approximately 150 million) per year. It also suggested that 43 per cent of their prey is wood mice, with the remaining 57 per cent mostly taken up by rats, voles and garden birds. (Findings were published in BBC Wildlife Magazine and you can listen to the author of the report discussing her findings here.) How much cats actually affect local wildlife populations remains unclear.
In their heyday, my mum’s (now elderly) cats caught anything they could lay their paws on. They once brought in and tortured a one-legged, one-eyed magpie, and there was the mummified grey squirrel my mum found under the sideboard (she kept most of this from me at the time.) Magpies are themselves predators of small birds, while grey squirrels are ten-a-penny and have pushed our native reds to the brink of extinction. Is there such a thing as acceptable prey for cats – magpies, squirrels, pigeons and rats maybe – as long as they leave the cute or endangered species alone?
Autumnwatch presenter Chris Packham recently made a plea to cat owners, asking them to keep their tabbies indoors at night to stop them killing wildlife. It’s estimated that this would halve the number of wild deaths each year, while putting an electronic bleeper on cats’ collars could reduce the number by a further 45 per cent. If you can’t envisage locking in your cats at night, consider just keeping them in at crucial times of the year. Fledgling birds are particularly vulnerable in late-spring, and young bats in late-summer. Innocent and inexperienced, these babies are ripe for being picked off by waiting moggies. Amphibian expert Jules Howard suggests that creating more hiding places for frogs, such as collections of plant pots, rockeries, log piles and open compost heaps, will help them escape the dreaded cats’ claws.
The cat that visits my garden at night doesn’t wear a bell. I have placed heavy plant pots around my tin-bath pond and added a thick layer of bramble branches over the frog hibernaculum. I hope kitty gets bored soon. I can’t take the pressure.
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