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Human influence affects wildlife, so we'll start with trapping and poaching. Moles and rabbits provided sport and income; moleskins were pegged out on boards to dry, and rabbit skins likewise. Rabbits also made a useful addition to family meals. In Drayford children on their way to school would check the traps, and reset them if necessary. Rabbits were also dealt with by means of a ferret, net and terrier. Some control was essential, for many winter days had to be spent in casting up hedge banks and repairing rabbit damage.

The Little Dart River offered a regular harvest of trout, and of salmon in the autumn. Lights, nets and tickling were among the methods used. It was said that at one time the whole length of the river within the parish was divided into sections by the poachers, regardless of the fishing rights of the real owners. Youngsters keen to join in were sent packing, but at least one lot found that by letting the water seep out of the sluice gate at mill end of the leat until the leat was dry, trout and eels could be easily scooped up. Normal eel fishing was known as clatting, in which a long pole had a bunch of worms tied on the end and dipped into the river, usually when it was running high. Eels found this bait irresistible.

It is good to record that, after decades of absence, otters are back. Badgers to were threatened in the past, and may be so again. At present they thrive; there are a number of 'setts' in the parish, one at least of which has been known for over 70 years. Foxes too have been successful, and seem to take more interest in the village itself than they used to. Birdlife has seen some changes over the years. In the 1960's Curlews nested at Stretchdown, and Golden Plover and Lapwing wintered here, but no longer. The Cuckoo was a familiar sound and sight but, again, no longer. The village Swift flock has dwindled from 30/40 to under 20, although Swallows and House Martins are still numerous. Buzzards are less commonly seen. There are Dipper and Kingfisher along the Little Dart, which also receives water from a number of minor streams Adworthy Brook, Sturcombe Water, Fulford Water and Hole Lake, lake is a local word for stream). Bluebells thrive in Yeo Woods and elsewhere as do Primroses, and there are Orchids on Witheridge Moor. Dutch Elm disease took its toll here as elsewhere, but Oak, Ash and Beech are still a major feature in the landscape.

The parish still has largely retained its pattern of relatively small fields, their banks topped by hedges of whitethorn, blackthorn, hazel, alder, beech, ash and holly. Mechanical trimming may have deterred the Yellowhammer and others from nesting there, but the traditional skills of hedge laying have not been forgotten. Fortunately, the old harvest of bird's wings is long past; Starling wings for women's hats fetched a penny-halfpenny a pair, and the plumage of Jays was in demand by anglers. Conifer plantations have increased in number, but mixed planting is now becoming more popular. The great pond at Bradford Tracy has silted up, but new areas of water, as at Combe and Dart Raffe, have drawn Duck, Coot, Moorhen and colourful insects.

Some of the traditional public footpaths have been kept, such as across West Yeo and Adworthy's, and the Witheridge Mill Leat path, and there are some newly designated paths, as at Dart Raffe. The Two Moors Way enters the parish from Thelbridge, passes through the village, using part of the Village Trail; it passes the Village Hall, goes down almost to the river, runs up the valley and to the road at Bradford Moor Cottages on its way to Creacombe and on towards Exmoor.

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Last Edited 03/07/2006    Copyright © 2000-2006 Witheridge

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