18 August: Gilbert White V. Pond life

This marshy stretch of water offers cover to birds – and would-be hunters.

We continue reading from White’s letter to Pennant.

Wolmer Pond, so called, I suppose, for eminence sake, is a vast lake for this part of the world, containing, in its whole circumference, 2,646 yards, or very near a mile and a half.  The length of the north-west and opposite side is about 704 yards, and the breadth of the south-west end about 456 yards.  This measurement, which I caused to be made with good exactness, gives an area of about sixty-six acres, exclusive of a large irregular arm at the north-east corner, which we did not take into the reckoning.

On the face of this expanse of waters, and perfectly secure from fowlers, lie all day long, in the winter season, vast flocks of ducks, teals, and widgeons, of various denominations, where they preen and solace, and rest themselves, till towards sunset, when they issue forth in little parties (for in their natural state they are all birds of the night) to feed in the brooks and meadows, returning again with the dawn of the morning.  Had this lake an arm or two more, and were it planted round with thick covert (for now it is perfectly naked), it might make a valuable decoy.

A decoy uses floating model ducks to attract flocks of wild birds to a stretch of water where hunters and their retriever dogs are waiting.

Gilbert White can be seen here involving his parishioners in his science, surveying the pond. It must have been exciting for the swarms of children following behind. I daresay they got in the way.

He says elsewhere that rich tenants had stripped the oak woods around the pond, selling the timber, in all probability, to the Royal Naval Dockyard at Portsmouth to build ships with ‘hearts of oak’. War and greed deforesting England.

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