At last we are getting some pigeon shooting in as they flock to the rape stubbles in quite serious numbers. Goodness knows where they have materialised from, as there has been a real dearth of them for ages. Despite the damage to crops attributed to them, and crows, to some extent, I am reluctant to shoot them over standing crops where they cannot be retrieved when wounded. In my book it is a sin to leave any creature to a lingering and painful death.

While on the subject of animal welfare; I am appalled at the recent reports of cruelty to horses. If I had my way I would take the perpetrators of these crimes to the west coast, strip their shirts off and tie them to a tree for 20 minutes or so and leave them to the mercy of the highland midge. They would never do it again.

The predator control argument is still raging on, driven by desk-bound, degree-toting faceless wonders who deny keepers, men of a lifetime’s experience, the right to stabilise the situation. Regrettably I feel society is dividing into two sections; country folk and townies. I am appalled – nay, startled, and I take a lot of startling! – by the widening gulf. The ignorance of country life by urban mankind is serious and must be addressed.

On a totally separate note, Himalayan balsam; what awful stuff, and an ever-growing menace. I was horrified to see how it had spread over our little wood, six or seven feet high with nothing growing underneath, just bare earth. At a first glance it would appear to be a suitable cover crop but further investigation destroyed that theory. One saving grace is that it is easy to pull up, as a couple of hours with Val demonstrated.

The wonderful wildfowling season is upon us again and already the geese in the Cromarty Firth have had their baptism of fire. In fact, according to my old wildfowling chum and Highland clay pigeon shot of high renown John Mackay, the Firth has seen an unusual number of greylags this early in the season and his brother informed him that over 400 flew over his house the other evening. Now these Mackays are extremely knowledgeable ornithologists: they know what they are talking about and are adamant that these early arrivals are not feral birds from the west, where they are increasing in considerable numbers; they reckon the geese have come down from the north to feed on our stubbles.

Our summering population of Canada geese began migration back to wintering grounds in England; Yorkshire, I am told. Year on year the number coming up here to moult is increasing. Not so long ago not one was to be seen in the Cromarty Firth; now there are around one hundred. How times change! n