21 September 2020

The last day of summer. A distinct nip in the air first thing. The upper Calder Valley had evidently decided to start the whole mists and mellow fruitfulness a day early, with a cloud-sea filling the valley bottom.


The squirrel that first appeared in the garden in June gradually became a regular visitor during the summer, then a permanent fixture. It’s now two squirrels. They’ve taken up residence in the neighbour’s oak, and have spent the last week secreting acorns about our garden for the coming winter, mostly burying them in either lawn. I have to say, they’re diligent hoarders, but I suppose that’s natural selection for you: they will have come from a long line of diligent hoarders; the less diligent ones’ lineages will have died out.

Ruth’s acorns are all well and good, but the squirrels have also discovered the expensive sunflower hearts on our bird table. Over the weekend, I tried an experiment, sprinkling chilli powder on top of the seeds. Chilli plants evolved their spicy taste to dissuade mammals from eating them. To spread their seeds far and wide, it’s preferable for chilli pods to be eaten by birds, which don’t digest the seeds in their stomachs. Birds are immune to the hot, spicy taste.

A short while after deploying my chemical weapon, I watched in interest as one of the squirrels shone up the pole of the bird table and began tucking into the seeds. After a single mouthful, the evil rodent froze in its tracks, then shook its head and pawed the side of its face agitatedly for a few seconds before running off for a deep drink at the bird bath. It hasn’t been back to the bird table since.

1–0 to Homo sapiens. But I fear this battle could run all winter.

By Richard Carter

Richard Carter is a writer and photo­grapher living in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. Website · Facebook · Twitter · Newsletter · Book

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