Sightings of a rare Lesser Snow Goose on Glastonbury Tor have triggered a rush of “twitchers” (bird spotters) to the bird-spotting hide at St. Michael’s Tower this week.
The twitchers generally get on reasonably well with other users of the tor, although some visitors take a while to get used to the total silence rule that the twitchers try to impose.
Yesterday though the twitchers came head-to-head with Defra’s Squirrel Resuscitation Team (the “SRT”) that is permanently on standby at the tor because of the recent hand-cooked crisp warning.
Details are hazy, but reports indicate that a squirrel crept into the twitcher’s hide, found and ate a discarded hand-cooked sea salt and cracked black pepper crisp, which promptly lodged in its windpipe.
A scuffle ensued when a member of the SRT attempted to resuscitate the squirrel and was set upon by enraged twitchers, whose attempts to maintain silence had fallen on deaf ears.
Fortunately the police were on hand within minutes and peace was restored, but now a member of the resuscitation team is stationed at the entry gate checking the picnics that visitors bring onto the tor, and placing a security seal on any packs of hand cooked crisps that are brought in.
Defra has issued a warning about the effect of hand-cooked crisps on the delicate ecology of Glastonbury Tor. These particularly hard crisps have become popular over the last few years, often replacing thinner and less destructive crisps such as the traditional Walkers Ready Salted that used to be such a common sight in the typical British picnic.
Ken Armsworth, Chief Animal Welfare Scientist at Defra said at an emergency press conference today: “I don’t think people realise how dangerous a hand cooked crisp can be to a squirrel or badger that is foraging for food in a picnic site. These creatures have become accustomed to eating discarded prawn cocktail and cheese and onion crisps – a particular delicacy for this kind of wildlife. When they find a discarded hand-cooked crisp, they try and eat it with often devastating consequences.”
Armsworth described the measures that have been put in place to counter the threat of hard and difficult to chew crisps – “We have a team on standby at the picnic area on Glastonbury Tor, ready to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to any squirrels that get one of these crisps trapped in their windpipe. Unfortunately there’s nothing we can do for the badgers though, they take food underground and we can’t get into their lair to provide first aid as they become very defensive, fighting off our well-meaning attempts to help.”
There is a simple answer – unless you are willing to attend Defra’s new three month Squirrel Resuscitation course (in which case bring any kind of crisp you like*), the next time you visit Glastonbury Tor you should only bring easily crunchable crisps in your picnic, and if you really want to play it safe, bring crisps in flavours that squirrels and particularly badgers don’t like, such as Sour Cream & Chive and Smoky Bacon.
* Except Salt & Vinegar Ringos
Visit the Defra website to learn more about protecting these valuable species.