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"THE BEAUTIES OF EPPING FOREST IN DANGER.

PPING FOREST is situated mainly on the low ridge

that forms the watershed between the Lea and the Roding, widening out in parts into a level plateau,

but with considerable natural fall over much, if not most, of its area. This upland is capped by patches of gravel of various geological age resting upon London clay, which latter formation is exposed in some of the flat parts and on the middle slopes of both river-valleys, the lower parts of their valleys not being within the Forest. Some parts of the Forest are consequently almost always dry at the surface, while on much of the level central plateau there are numerous stagnant pools and a considerable area of wet ground after rain, the water being held up by the clay. Natural rivulets with considerable current -drain the slopes, having, in some cases, as between Great and Little Monk Wood, cut for themselves deep, steep-sided and picturesque valleys. The banks of these streams are always liable to be damaged by the feet of cattle, and their channels to become blocked by fallen leaves. These causes, and in a few cases almost certainly, the existence of surface-springs at the junction of overlying gravel with underlying clay, have in places produced permanent bogs, marked by a luxuriant growth of Marsh Pennywort (Hydrocotyle) and occasionally of Sphagnum. Such bogs are undoubtedly, retaining as they do a large amount of stagnant water in the sub-soil, detrimental to the soundness of neighbouring timber trees; and they may, though I have not heard of any fatalities, be a source of danger to the cattle of commoners, or of that larger body of persons who, as Sir T. F. Buxton has pointed out, usurp common rights. Their total area, however, is so small, and that of any one of them so insignificant as to be no serious obstacle to any rational pedestrian. It is not necessary that sound timber should be growing over the whole area of the Forest; and their presence gives diversity to the Forest scenery, and affords many objects of interest to the large numbers of naturalists who enjoy the Forest in an obtrusive and harmless manner.

The wood of the forest is mainly hornbeam, as pollards and as coppice, with a good deal of beech, including in some areas large trees, birch, holly, as undergrowth, and scattered oaks in some parts. The beech is mostly on dry knolls; but its copious root system requires a good water-supply, though not a stagnant one, in a porous and consequently warm subsoil. The birch is perhaps more accommodating, but grows mostly on level gravel areas. The holly is still less particular, flourishing on dry

sand, under the shade of beech or even in a stiff and necessarily somewhat cold loam. Fir-trees are neither indigenous to, characteristic of, or suitable to Epping Forest; and, though there are a few Scotch firs near Fairmead, the spruce is perhaps the only

un

common fir likely to succeed. Few things more strikingly illustrate the way in which the Conservators persistently act in contravention of the spirit of the Epping Forest Act, which prescribes the maintenance of the natural aspect of the Forest than their (mostly futile) efforts at planting fir to the entire neglect of hornbeam, the most characteristic tree of the Forest. With regard to hornbeam and oak-two, in our opinion, of the most important species from the Epping Forest point of viewit is well to bear in mind the opinion expressed by the late Professor Bagneris, one of the most distinguished of European foresters, writing purely from the standpoint of a practical timber-producer.

As for draining (he says) except in the case of stagnant pools, it must be resorted to with great moderation. A few ditches judiciously dug ensure sufficient drainage, for it must not be forgotten that our most valuable species delight in very moist and even wet soils, e.g., the pedunculate oak, ash, elm, hornbeam, spruce fir and elder. This has been sometimes forgotten. Whenever the water is not stagnant so that the soil does not become actually marshy, draining is a mistake. There is no doubt that the premature decay of the pedunculated oak in many places, and its disappearance in others, are due to over-drainage. This species is the tree par exceilence of low-lying plains which are subject to floods.

In 1883 the present writer reported “ that, seeing the many natural water-courses of the Forest, after the experience of unusually wet seasons, it appears that no more drainage is required, but that the planting of alder, willows, poplars, and other trees, will be a more natural way of rendering the surface drier.” There can, I think, be little objection to a few shallow surface drains on level ground, as at Fairmead, to carry off heavy rainfalls, or to ditches by the sides of the high roads, or even by some of the rides ; but the clearing of natural channels from leaves and other obstructions, without cutting them into straight, square and bare ditches, as is done at present, seems all that is otherwise necessary. The straight ditch from the high road into. the fosse of Ambresbury Banks may be interesting from a mili

ry point of view, but it is so from no other : the clean sweep of hawthorn and briar from the banks of the stream between Epping and Theydon manors is surely a needless piece of vandalism ;. and the ditch-digging in Hang-boy Slade and elsewhere has. risked the Sphagnum and the Sundew sharing the fate of that well-nigh exterminated by the unlamented Board of Works at Hampstead. This uncontrolled license of the hedger and ditcher has, it is believed, never had the approval of the verderers-gentlemen better qualified, by their residence on the spot and the permanence of their office, to judge of the interests of the Forest, than are the other members of the Committee. It involves a large amount of expensive labour, for no appreciable benefit to anything or anybody but the labourers employed, and certainly to the great loss of lovers of Nature.

G. S. Boulger.

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URING a visit to the Cape a few years ago, I chanced

to spend a fortnight at an ostrich farm belonging to a relative. As the growing of ostrich feathers may be

of interest to the readers of the Selborne Society's Magazine, I send a short account of what I there saw and learnt.

To one in search of the picturesque, an ostrich farm is a grievous disappointment. The country around, it is true, is very beautiful; but the farm itself, a one-storied building, surrounded by a number of square enclosures (each containing a pair of birds), some sheds for the incubators and for storing food, does not offer much attraction for the pencil. The native who tends the birds, and goes gaily about, dressed in the cast-off clothes of his master, may be a loveable creature, but is certainly not a lovely one.

The birds themselves, gaunt and ugly, are perhaps the greatest disappointment. They are extremely timid, and when alarmed, will rush at and break through almost any fence, and run for miles. They have the greatest aversion towards dogs; and as a scare may result in the loss of several birds, the farmer has no mercy, and shoots every member of the canine species that comes near his place.

A full-grown ostrich must be handled very cautiously, as a blow from its foot is often fatal. This foot, which looks like one large toe, has a formidable-looking claw at its extremity, and this, added to the enormous strength of the leg, makes it a dangerous weapon.

Its neck is weak, so the keepers, profiting by their knowledge, have learned to keep the bird at a safe distance when it approaches by means of a long forked stick, which seizes the neck just below the head, and which the bird has not wit or power to avoid.

The chickens are all hatched in incubators; and to keep their sham mothers at an even temperature is a continual source of anxiety to the “ strauss-vogel ” boer. Some ten or fifteen years ago, when ostrich-farming was very remunerative, every one who could scrape together enough money bought a pair of birds. Those less pecunious bought a chicken or even unhatched egg, despite the proverb, and these small growers often reaped a good harvest.

Things were, however, in a very different state when I was at the Cape. A disease was spreading among the farms, with which no one seemed able to cope, and many valuable birds died. In fear and trembling my host would visit his

pens

of morning to see what havoc the epidemic had made. As the sums paid for ostriches are considerably larger than what we pay here for carriage-horses, his anxiety was not to be wondered at. Their value is greatly increased when they have paired, for

an

a

the female is generally very coy and particular in accepting a suitor. I have heard of as much as £ 500 being given for one pair of birds ; £200 and £300 are not at all uncommon prices. A few hours after the disease had attacked them, they would be no more worth than their feathers.

Dick, the Zulu attendant, would pluck their carcases till they were as naked as a Christmas turkey, and bury them at once, for fear of the infection spreading. In spite of this depressing occupation, he was always ready for a grin some six inches wide, evoked on the smallest provocation, at the most microscopic of jokes.

Gathering the feathers is not in any way a painful operation for the birds, as they are not plucked out, but cut-the stumps being pulled out when the bird would be naturally moulting. It would not do to wait until the moulting time to gather in the feathers, as they are then past their full beauty.

Each bird has a distinguishing name of its own. amused to hear the farmer discussing with his Zulu factotum as to whether “ Mrs. Langtry” were ripe, or whether “ Mr. Gladstone” were fit for gathering. The birds are coaxed into a kind of wooden hutch with no top to it, and sufficiently small to prevent the legs having full play. They can then be approached with ease, and the feathers are safely cut off.

From all that I saw I feel satisfied that ostrich-farming is not cruel. The birds owe a happy and pleasant existence to the fact that their feathers have a commercial value. They are never short of fodder or water, as they too often are in their natural state. They are protected from wild beasts, and their great value secures them from rough handling by their owners, for the better they are kept, the finer the crop of feathers. For all these advantages the only return they have to make, is to lose what nature would every year take from them at the moult.

W. TYNDALE.

I was

Since members of the Selborne Society are often questioned as to the humanity of ostrich-farming, it may be worth while to quote a published letter of Mr. Thomas Distin's to Sir Charles Mills, K.C.M.G., in 1886:

“Dear Sir CHARLES,—You enquire if ostriches suffer any pain in the process of plucking their feathers. Let me assure you

that such is not the case. The ostriches are first driven into a small enclosure, caught, and put in a wooden frame. The feathers are then cut with a pair of scissors, leaving about an inch of stump. Th. bird is then released, and runs for about six weeks until the stumps are dried up, when they are drawn. If the feathers were pulled at first instead of being cut, then of course the bird would suffer much pain, and the small fibres or nerves attached to the stump of the feather would be injured and the bird would no longer produce good feathers,

OSTRICH FARMING.

41

and would become of little or no value. If feathers are now drawn and not cut, it is the exception, and could only be done by an inexperienced ostrich farmer."

The Hon. P. L. Van der Byl, M.L.C., writes from the Cape to the same effect. “I beg to state that no cruelty whatever is practised on the birds; the feathers are cut, not plucked (though that word still remains in common parlance.)".

Mr. Evans, of Reitfontein, Cape Colony, in a letter to the Times some years ago, says: “I cannot assert that no acts of cruelty are committed; even now perhaps a few birds are plucked still. But with my extensive acquaintance with the Colony, I know of no breeder anywhere who is guilty of such folly.

Plucking reduces both the quantity and value of the feathers, and ultimately leads to ruin.'

From Mr. G. Nathan's interesting paper in Longman's Magazine some time back, we learn that it was in 1875 that the farmers began first to adopt the plan of cutting the feathers; before that time “they blundered along in their own way, learning their experience.” Many of the ostrich camps are over two thousand acres in extent, and afford a wide run for the domesticated birds. Of the general gain of the colony through the rise of ostrich-farming, there can be no doubt. • It has given to large extent of sheep runs, a rest; it has been the means of partially ridding many farms of the prickly pear, a cactus highly palateable to the ostrich, but a pest to the farmer; and it has made farmers fence in large tracts of country. The boom’in feathers came when all produce of the Colony was very low, and for the time being saved the farming population from bankruptcy. Many farmers still believe in it as a permanent industry.”

Perhaps no bird has been so much noticed by ancient writers as the ostrich. The Arabs have a saying that “ Allah gave fortune to the ostrich by touching its wings with his lips.” It has been connected from earliest times with sacred symbols and with the state of Kings.

Sir H. Layard tells us that Ostrich feathers appear on the robes of the ancient sculptures of Nimrod and on the Babylonian and Assyrian cylinders. Canon Tristram points out that the word often translated “owl” in the Old Testament, is really the ostrich, to whose “hoarse complaining cry by night, Job compares his lamentations.

The same simile occurs in Micah—mourning as the ostriches.'”

The ostrich feather is used as a symbol of justice on the Egyptian hieroglyphic monuments, because of the even and equally-balanced filaments on each side of the quill. In early days the plumes seem to have been more worn by men than by women. Aristophanes, in his comedy, “ Acharnenses," speaks of a General wearing two white ostrich feathers in his helmet; and we have an example in our own royal history, where the Black Prince adopted the three ostrich plumes of the slain King of Bohemia ; they have continued ever since the badge of the

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