Riding shotgun on heron trail

fishing lines
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Many thanks to all the readers who wrote sympathising with my heron problems and offering solutions. Sadly, many were not practicable but the letters show the fish-eating birds are a hazard for pond owners. The funny thing is I have always admired herons on the river bank. There's a fisherman who can catch whatever the circumstances, I mused, though his methods would probably not have worked for me.

However, there are certain her- onish tricks that an angler can use to increase a catch. One is deliberate stirring of the water. Herons do this to create a cloud into which curious but dumb fish swim, thinking the soup canteen has opened. It's a practical trick for anglers, especially in clear water. Fish feel more secure in cloudy water and the disturbance uncovers bottom-living bugs that are easy prey for fish.

My admiration for a heron's techniques has been reassessed ever since marauding birds star- ted snaffling the inhabitants of my pond, especially my prize newts. Barbie and Ken, the children's goldfish, have survived, but for how long? And what about the trauma of those gimlet eyes and wicked spear hovering over you? Something has to be done, though I fear it cannot be as extreme as the shotgun theory proposed by one reader. Herons are protected birds.

Netting is the most popular theory, though it is ugly and needs to be done properly. Mr D Morris from Salisbury said he had protected his pond in this way, but a smart heron simply trod down the net. It's also impractical if you have a large or complicated pond weaving under bridges and through rock gardens. Some wacky suggestions included taming a hawk, which are said to frighten off herons, and stocking the pond with electric eels, piranhas or pike. They would all probably work, though the hand-feeding I enjoy with the kois, carp, tench and rudd would become a risky venture with a 20lb pike. Thanks for the idea anyway, Scott Gifford of Bath.

I've tried string and fishing line, but my springers doggedly walk through it and get hopelessly tangled up. One reader suggested a heron scarer, firing shotgun cartridges at intervals. Not sure how the neighbours would take that one. One crackpot said he had protected his pond with mirrors, which makes visiting heron think the place is already packed with rivals. The most practical idea is to stop a heron entering the water. This is done by putting wire or suchlike in the shallow areas, extending out from the edges. This would work well on my pond, which has high edges. The bird likes to work at water level and does not fish, as many suppose, by dipping down like those silly nodding birds that hang on the edge of a glass and look as if they are drinking from it.

I also received correspondence on the mystery of 20 herons standing in a field. My idea that it was a heron "standing place" was scoffed, and ideas ranged from the birds mating (if so, none of them fancied each other) to searching for worms, frogs and voles. My favourite answer came from John Balaam, of Bury St Edmunds. His writing was a little unclear but if I deciphered it correctly he suggested they were looking for molls. This makes sense, if you think about it.

Male herons are shy, retiring creatures without the courage or audacity to raid a garden pond. What they need to take advantage of this easy source of food is a tough woman, a heron version of Bonnie Parker, to plan the robberies. The Balaam theory would explain the heron that a neighbour spotted standing on my garden wall. It was clearly a female bird keeping a lookout, and probably driving the getaway car, too.