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Wildlife and wild death


by Richard Jones

In East Dulwich, this year, the garden ornament of choice is ... the animal skull. Now this might seem a little macabre, but I find something rather aesthetically pleasing in the form, shape and texture of old bones.


SkullIn East Dulwich, this year, the garden ornament of choice is ... the animal skull. Now this might seem a little macabre, but I find something rather aesthetically pleasing in the form, shape and texture of old bones.

It all started several years ago when I was carrying out a wildlife survey for London Underground. As well as the subterranean tube lines, the overground commuter rail network extends right out of the capital. I was able to get to a whole host of places completely off limits to the general public. Great effort was made to prevent people getting electrocuted or being struck by trains. Before I was even allowed through the padlocked gate I had to attend a day of awareness training, pass a safety test and have a medical examination.

Fox skullUnfortunately, the foxes that frequented the many out-of-the-way wildlife havens along the tracks could not read the danger signs and it was not uncommon to come across the remains of one picked clean beside the rails. At one time we had a good half dozen fox skulls around the garden, but our resident south London foxes liked to play with them and many have been damaged or gone missing. Those that remain are nailed to the shed and the flagpole. The sheep jawbone eventually also fell apart because of their meddling, but the cat skull is still there; perhaps too small to interest them. The starling skulls, discovered behind an old boarded up fireplace when we first arrived in our house, disappeared too, long ago.

Horse skullSo when I was out and about near Sevenoaks recently, I could not believe my luck when I unearthed a huge jaw and then the cranium that went with it. I first took it to be a cow, but when it was cleaned up it proved to be a horse. It looks very decorative just outside the kitchen door. How it came to be half buried in an old disused sandpit I guess I will never discover, nor how long it had been there.

It is much too big for the local foxes to bother with, but I have already seen a solitary bee, an Andrena species, sunning itself on the forehead, and ants have been exploring the teeth. Yet more wildlife habitat in my urban garden.



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Gardeners' World Web User 20/06/2008 at 22:51

I wondered if anyone else uses the beautiful tall structural plant cephalaria in their wild life gardens. They have large pale lemon scabious type flowers and bees just love them, often several bees seem attracted to just one flower head. I grow them in my sunny gravel bed with stipa gigantica - a lovely plant combination

Gardeners' World Web User 22/06/2008 at 22:41

I've got two rat skulls decorating a pot. I found them side by side in my garden. No other bones; just the skulls. I'd love to know why. Now I'm looking out for more. They're quite beautiful.

Gardeners' World Web User 24/06/2008 at 12:51

Right concolologirl *_____* also in Georgia O'Keeffe collection of paintings there are plenty, she lived in the desert of Texas all alone! She loved bulls' and horses' skulls so much as you can see that is just one of them and is so awesome & beautiful! Lily

Gardeners' World Web User 25/06/2008 at 10:45

There is no telling how old the skull is, it could be 4 or 400 years old, so could have been dumped and buried there long before modern ideas of animal welfare evolved. It was in an area of scrub which looked as if no-one had passed through for at least 50 years.

Gardeners' World Web User 30/06/2008 at 21:52

Bones are good, as long as the popularisation of them doesn't mean we inadvertently encourage the trade in killing of the animals for the collection of their skeletons... find it yourself, don't buy it.

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