After a week back at home I am finally beginning to feel better. I have been visited every 2 days by Madame Rumy, our district nurse. She comes every other day to change the dressings on the holes from the operation. She arrives, bristling efficiency and wastes no time in stripping off the dressings, cleaning the wounds and placing new dressings. She manages to be cheerful and reassuring before disappearing out the door to her next client. Monday I have to go back to the hospital to have the stitches removed.

Having a week of rest is somewhat unusual here at La Godefrere as even in winter there is plenty to do. Fortunately we have done a lot of clearance work at the bottom of the big field and so we are pretty much up-to-date with the work. So I was at least able to rest without feeling too guilty. I had only been home a couple of days when our friends Emile and Yvette came round to see how I was. They brought chocolate with them which unfortunately at the moment is on my banned list, but I am sure Mrs. Parish can help me out. This gave a chance to show Emile the knitted chicken tabards that we had been sent. The ones with “escaped from la Godefrere” knitted in French. Emile found this a bit bizarre and dissolved into fits of laughter. It was not something that a French farmer would ever expect to see. They are hens, either for eggs or to eat! More evidence of the madness of the English and Americans. 

At least this lull in activity at La Godefrere allows me to report on the great Cormorant conflict that is happening round at a friend’s place. Our friends Ian and Sarah live just outside Ambrieres and on their grounds they have a small lake which Ian is developing and stocking with fish. This activity has not gone unnoticed by a group of marauding cormorants who come up the Mayenne river looking for feeding opportunities. They have spotted Ian’s lake and have taken the opportunity to try out the fish. At times there have been around twenty cormorants in or around the lake.

A cormorant

The problem arises as to what to do about this. Cormorants are a protected species and so it is not possible to kill them. Ian took to racing over his field to the lake and waving his hands around wildly. This had some initial success but it is not a practical long term solution. Fortunately the European Union has some advice on the problem. This comprises of a document from the Intercafe Management Toolbox; section 4 “Cormorant Management Tools”. This helpfully starts off by stating that it is aimed at “Limiting the interaction between cormorants and fish.”

Most of the techniques recommended seem to involve trying to scare the cormorants away. The toolbox covers a range of exciting ideas including gas cannons and fireworks. The downside of these would likely to be cost and getting the permission of the mayor. Ian thinks a scarecrow should be the first line of attack. Fortunately we have in one of our stores a set of waterproof all in one jacket and trousers left behind by the previous owners. They were made for a public body and have the advantage of being bright yellow. The toolbox tells us that scarecrows must be as realistic as possible so the overall are filled with straw and a head is manufactured. The scarecrow is then strategically placed at the lake.

The scarecrow!!

It must be moved frequently to create the illusion of human activity. The toolbox does suggest that the cormorants may see through the ruse once they get used to the fact that the scarecrow poses no threat. Indeed the toolbox itself does, after going into much detail about alternative scaring techniques, acknowledge this basic problem, that cormorants are quite smart birds that are quite persistent when there is good food to be had.

To supplement the scaring activities Ian decided to put some tape across the lake to try to deter the cormorants. To do this he borrowed a bow and arrow to send a wire over the lake and there are now tales around Ambrieres of some sort of mystical “Robin des bois (Robin Hood)” in the woods around the town.

Robin des Bois (Robin Hood)

These efforts had mixed success with the ongoing problem that the cormorants eventually realised there was little threat. Now enter Emile with his French farmer answer. To Sarah’s horror he arrived at their house with his ancient shotgun and suggested that Ian use the gun to scare the cormorants. A bow and arrow was one thing but was it wise to let Ian loose with a real gun! Sarah suggested that it may be that they should get some blank cartridges as that would be safer. Emile dismissed this by saying in typical French farmer style that “if you use live ammunition you might accidentally hit a cormorant.” The toolbox warns against this as even accidentally killing a cormorant is illegal. At least we don’t have Emile loose in the woods with his gun. The problem would have been that Emile is of the belief that the law does not apply to him as he is over 80! I am not sure where the gun option is going at the moment, but it seems unlikely to end well!

I helpfully suggested that Ian acquired a large bird of prey to fly over the lake to frighten the birds. Apparently a goshawk would be good for the purpose. The problem might how to care for the bird. In some cases the toolbox suggests that a kite shaped like a bird of prey could be used but again the cormorants can get accustomed to this.

The final solution, indeed the only practical solution is to net the lake or as the toolbox says “altering fish availability”. The lake is quite small so netting is a reasonable solution although Ian has now to work out how to get it across the lake and round several obstructions. I will continue to monitor the situation at Ian’s lake (from a safe distance) and report back. I am sure the EU Cormorant management people will also be keen to hear from us.

Last week another “consignment” arrived at La Godefrere from one of our farmer friends, Olivier. This time Mrs. Parish with Sarah had ordered half a pig between us. The pork duly arrived at Sarah’s which meant her and Mrs. Parish had to sort out and bag up the meat. This also meant sorting out the bits of pig we did not want. In France if you want half a pig, you literally get half including feet, tail and the head. Some of this was out sorted for Emile as being typically French they will eat any part of the body. We are a bit more delicate and so we shared out all the good bits between us and our share is now safely in the freezer. When Mrs. Parish arrived back with a boot full of pork I was not able to help as I had just come out of hospital. This meant luring the cats inside as they would have ambushed Mrs. Parish going between the car and the freezer and would probably have managed to steal some of the pork.

The frustrating thing is that at the moment I am on a strict low fat diet for the first three weeks and so can’t have any yet. Mind you over the past three weeks of being unwell I have managed to lose around a stone in weight! No bad thing as after Christmas I was starting to put on too much weight. The challenge will be to go back to “normal” eating and drinking wine without simply putting the weight back on. Mrs. Parish has loads of tasks to keep me fit so we will see.

We have our daughter Jo staying for the weekend so at least this weekend I can go over to the cave to select some wine even if it is for others. I go back tomorrow to see the specialist and hopefully get the OK to at least have a small glass of wine!

Bon weekend