Sunday, 14 November 2010

Genius Loci: The Holt

I have found many examples of otter spraint in all its seasonal variations. I have found their slides down muddy banks into the water and occasionally large bold tracks in wet clayey mud but despite many, many hours of searching I have yet to find a holt. If I am ever to find a holt it will be here amongst these narrow miles of boulders and fallen trees. But ones initial excitement at the possibilities of finding their hidden home soon fades when it becomes clear that every step of the journey reveals another pile of rocks, another uprooted tree, and another deep hole into which no light shines. This is not a search for a needle in a haystack; it is a search for a needle amongst a mountain of other needles.
It would take weeks to investigate every hole and small cave. Some are merely spaces enclosed by jumbled falls of rocks whilst others go back deeper into the earth. I have found no fox tracks or sign in this place, perhaps not surprising given the attitude of gamekeepers and farmers to the animal. Whilst the three mile walk in was strewn with viscous oily black badger scat, indicating that a large troupe of the animals had passed along the trail that morning, making a circuit from the spruce plantation to the foot of the crags I have found no badger sign down in the gill. This seems to be otter habitat – a place too wet for badgers and too narrow for foxes.
On a slope overlooking a wide shallow rapid I found an overhanging rock with a bare sandy area beneath. In contrast to the rest of the gill which was dripping with run-off from the moor and splashed with spray here was place that was safe and dry and afforded clear views up and down stream. In a dark corner of this space I found a small black green scat with the twisted shape characteristic of the mustelidae but it’s location in this small dark space caused me to ponder; the low space would suit an animal with short legs and a liking for water but all the otter spraint I have found has been sited in connection with territorial marking on prominent waterside rocks and mounds and along tracks used by the animals. Was this animal marking the space, letting others know of its presence and ownership?

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