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These fauna are not for feeding

The importance of leaving the wild animals of the New Forest to source their own food. Oh and - meet the Hatchet Pond monster!

Mark and Hugh signoff 600x400This week Hugh and Mark take a look at the topic of nutrition. And remind us in some unusual ways in a typically entertaining tale, how vital it is NOT to feed the wild animals of the New Forest..

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Whilst we both care deeply for the health of our readers, we feel we must apologise because this week it’s all about the creatures. No, not the wild and semi-wild ones on the back seat, the wild and semi-wild ones that live in the New Forest. Unwittingly, visitors are corrupting the eating preferences of our local fauna and as you shall see the consequences can be unpleasant for both the human and the animal.

“Spare twenty quid for a bottle of whisky guv?”

Never in a hundred years would you walk up to a homeless drunk and proffer a bottle of whisky but then why not? After all, he likes it even if he can’t afford it. Why don’t you buy the poor unfortunate man (we’re not being sexist here, it’s almost always a man) something to put a smile on his face? The reason is quite simply care; we care enough that we don’t give the man the weapon with which he could well kill himself. Instead, we give just a little, in the hope that he might buy a coffee or perhaps a burger.

By the same token we wouldn’t dream of buying our children armfuls of cheap sweets, throwing them into their bedroom and telling them to get on with it. Again, the question ‘why not?’ The answer for most (but clearly not for all) is clear. Sweets aren’t nutritious; they rot teeth, expand waistlines and can spawn a host of other medical problems. Both the drunk and the children need to be protected from themselves by clear thinking adults.

Bearing all this in mind will someone please explain to me why we treat our forest animals so differently?

The holly is fresh in today Sir, it’s delicious raw

I was strolling in the forest the other day and I was so shocked at what I saw that I actually stopped and watched. A pony was eating holly. Leaf by prickly leaf it slowly and carefully enjoyed its Forest amuse bouche. I am sure that at some time or another, the gardeners amongst you have had to tackle these spiny horrors, the spikes of which penetrate the thickest glove with ease. I watched the pony carefully; rather than simply chomp away it carefully manoeuvred the leaf into the optimum position before mincing it. It was rather like watching a person roll a hot piece of food around their mouth until it cooled a little. Try to imagine then the holly leaf as being the toughest customer; that makes the rest of the forest foods on offer seem like bananas and custard, surely? All that fresh grass and those young tree shoots. Forest ponies can choose from an extensive menu of natural nutritious food. What in tarnation are we doing by messing with their diet?

Junk food? Yes, a great deal of it we probably should

So much of what we eat these days has been adulterated with sugar, salt, fat and chemicals that we humans are literally eating ourselves into a hospital bed. Governments need to balance the books which means keeping the hard-working and typically healthy tax payers in the majority and the tax absorbing habitual poorly in a minority. To this end, the government has been forced to tax sugar. Historically the crosshairs of the killjoy snipers have always settled upon booze and fags but now it would seem that the occasional delight that is a chocolate digestive has become the salivation of Satan. Sigh. My question to you is this. With so much emphasis on a healthy diet, keeping our sugar intake as low as we can bear, not eating butter, controlling our alcohol intake (stop there, Ed) why do we insist on feeding completely the wrong food to wild and semi-wild animals? Do we hate them? Of course, we don’t but many of us could be accused of ignorance.

Herring Gull, the clue is in the title

If anyone were to ask me what this wild bird habitually consumed, I would be forced to slap them with a wet kipper. Yes darlings, it’s herrings. This creature was not mistakenly named the Hovis Gull or the Cornish Pasty Gull, this bird has survived for many years on a diet of small fish. Misguided people feed them bread; this can kill them. Their natural diet contains vitamins and minerals and furthermore these gulls have more food than they need. They’ve been around a while you know, certainly longer than the piers from which we feed them. Bread contains carbohydrates fat and sugar, a combination of which affects the carpal joint (wrist) causing it to grow in a twisted manner. This causes the wing to droop, hence the name of the ailment, Angel Wing. I have personally had to rescue a Herring Gull from a garden because it had lost the ability to fly to freedom over a measly three-foot fence. Once covered with a blanket and gathered up it was released in a car park where, with an albatross style run-up it made it. All birds are affected by bread in this manner, particularly waterfowl. So, if you’re in the kind of mood where you want to give an alcoholic something really bad for him, grab a loaf of bread and take a trip to Hatchet Pond. After all, there’s little or no difference. Try to grasp the sad fact that when a bird with a wonky wing cannot fly is no longer classified as a bird, it has become fox food.

Coming to a Forest car park near you soon. Krispy Donuts!

Why, in the name of all that is holy, would anyone possessing more than two brain cells, ever feed a pony a doughnut? I accept that there are those of us who are weak willed and (to pick an example completely at random) drink too much alcohol. Others might shovel industrial quantities of Green and Blacks salted milk chocolate into their maw. We humans can be weak but here’s the thing, we have the knowledge. We know when we are doing wrong and from time to time, we reconsider our consumption. Horses probably don’t have the same insight and if offered the sugar rush of human junk food they will take it. They won’t even hesitate when offered a second, or a third time.

Well, so what? You might say. The problem is that these placid forest creatures are becoming a little tetchy. They used to completely ignore the sight of us two legged brightly coloured blobs as we tottered around the heathland. But suddenly we creatures came to represent something of interest, we’ve become a larder. There are ponies and donkeys that enjoyed the sugar rush so much the first time that they want more, and they’re not going to wait for it. Emboldened they confidently approach human families with their small dogs; if they can’t get what they crave then why shouldn’t they kick and bite? Is that how you want your next stroll in the Forest to be? Do you want to feel intimidated by the very creatures you came to enjoy? Then stop feeding them! Take a minute to search the web for horse and donkey bites in our area. It might be an education; it certainly was for me.

Mind your fingers darling

It’s lovely to introduce children to animals, it broadens their minds. What could be nicer than a cuddly fluffy donkey wandering over in search of a snack? Just be sure to count your child’s fingers before you leave. Oh, and when the food runs out, be ready to defend both your family and your shiny new car. There have been many attacks; look it up. This whole thing has been generated by us humans. So, how’s this for an idea, don’t take food into the forest, take it to a food bank.

We should all enjoy the Forest but, equally, we ought to leave the wild things well alone.


Hatchet Pond monster cartoon

Mark picked up on Hugh's original spelling error on the Ponds England notice board. Hugh returned the cartoons to Ponds England who, within ten minutes, mislaid them and he had to start again from scratch. 

More tales and cartoons for Lymington and the New Forest from Mark and Hugh

If you'd like to read previous articles on diverse subjects written by Mark and illustrated by Hugh's cartoons, just click here!

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