Friday, 10 February 2012

Cats and Rocks

For the third time this week I was woken up at around 3.00 in the morning by my Jack Russell Midge barking madly in the conservatory as she looked into the back garden. A neighbouring cat has taken to wandering across my garden in the middle of the night, triggering the security light. This ends up with me opening the door, Midge going up the garden at the speed of light and the cat just clearing the six foot high fence inches ahead of the dog, but one of these nights she will be successful!

Cats are the only pet that I can think of that have the twin luxury of being able to roam their neighbourhood shitting in gardens and killing wildlife and yet be legally protected whilst doing so. A dog being shut out every night to do the same would quickly be carted off to the Pound and the owner prosecuted.

Unless of course, you are a biased cat owner, it is generally recognised that domestic cats are one of the worst predators of wildlife in gardens and the countryside and responsible for the deaths of many thousands of songbirds each year. Even more surprising is the fact that many people who rail vigorously against those that hunt or trap pests such as crows and magpies, own and protect cats. When you point this out to a cat owner they tend to come up with the same response every time - the cat is only out following its natural instincts. Yet when I reply, fair enough then, myself and my dog will follow our instincts and treat it as we would any other wild predator such as a fox, it quickly becomes this cute cuddly pet that wouldn't hurt a fly. I wouldn't put my dogs in their gardens and don't expect their cats to be in my garden, simple as that - seems fair enough to me.

I came across the photo below today whilst unsuccessfully looking for some old snow scene ones. Its an old faded one of myself from around 1968/69 when I was still working for the Kent River Authority. I think it is along the seawall of The Swale, close to the Kingsferry Bridge but could be at Elmley. Judging by the roll neck and coat it was in the winter time and I was rock-pitching the base of the sea wall. As I have explained in previous postings, we would roughly shape the rocks square with hammers and then punner them into the clay of the sea wall to create a level defense against erosion from the tides. The punner was the long round wooden thing that I was holding and with this and a lot of hard thumps, the rock would be driven into the clay until level with those around it.
These days they just tend to tip a line of loose rocks along the base of the wall but in those days the stone-pitching was something that we took great pride in and still today long lengths of sea wall still remain as we repaired them all those years ago, testament I like to think, to the skills that we once had.
Looking at the wall behind me it is clear that we hadn't been at that site long because there was a lot of driftwood laying round. Just above me on the wall were our grub bags because we often had to sit out in the open for our meal breaks and therefore if it was very cold we would sit round an open fire on the wall, burning nearby driftwood. After a lengthy spell at one site we would normally have cleared anything flammable for half a mile or so in either direction. In fact, being the fire-lighter was quite a treat because you got to have a walk along the sea wall for driftwood whilst the others were working.
That has just reminded me of an amusing incident from that time. Our toilet in those days was as you expect, out in the open and we would simply walk further along the seawall with a sheet of newspaper. One particually lazy guy was away for ages and we suspected that he had simply used it as an excuse to have a long break and when he eventually came back we accused him of that. But he quickly countered with the reply, no, the piece of paper blew away in the wind and I had to chase after it!

P.S. A correspondent has just advised me that latest figures show that there are an estimated 10 million cats in this country, each killing an estimated 3 wildbirds per annum - that's 30,000,000 songbirds killed each year by cats!!


  1. I am a biased cat owner who keeps her cats in the house unless accompanied outside, just as you accompany your dogs. As human population densities increase, I feel we humans are morally obliged to protect nature from ourselves and to give nature a helping had when possible. On my darkest days, I think humans are a scourge on the face of the planet that should be eliminated. On my more optimistic days, I think maybe our numbers should just be decimated. This is partly tongue-in-cheek. I guess my message to you, Derek, is - don't blame the cats; blame their owners.

  2. Wilma,
    I understand fully, what you are trying to say and if we're honest, in our darkest days many of us wil have had similar thoughts.
    The human owner should always be the one responsible for what their pet gets up too, my dogs couldn't chase sheep for instance unless I let them. Unfortunately most cat owners always use the same excuse, that they can't control what the cat gets up to once they've let it out, because most cat owners can't be bothered to do anything other than simply open the door and let it out, and feed it when it eventually comes back.