Last week it was a tail of murder and destruction outside our backdoor as a robin’s nest was plundered by the aggressive neighbourhood black cat. We spent a very tense Wednesday evening trying to defend the nest with the aid of a water pistol but, despite seeing both adults fly from the direction of the nest early on Thursday morning, sadly it was not to be. By Thursday evening the behaviour and feeding pattern of the robins had reverted to what I can only describe as normal day-to-day routine rather than the incessant to’ings and fro’ings of a feeding pair. It seems ironic that it was only last month that I was commenting on the conflict we’ve felt at times between owning cats and feeding the birds (Nesting Now) but, as promised then, I will explain more.
Prior to owning our own cats, our garden was the territory of every cat and fox in the neighbourhood. There was the ginger and white who strolled down the garden so regularly every evening that we actually laid our garden path along the line he had trodden! There was Timmy one side of us and Toby and his various predecessors the other, plus a whole range of other occasional visitors who regarded our garden as excellent toilet facilities. The foxes used our garden as the main thoroughfare between the railway line and the road lined with the rubbish bins and recycling containers that provide such rich pickings. Whilst it was entertaining to see the young cubs being brought into the garden to play, it was less entertaining to clear up their mess every time we wanted to garden or even just to sit outside.
When we began exploring Norwegian Forest cats as a breed we quickly became aware that they are not very streetwise – the clue is in the name – ‘Forest’ not ‘Street’ cat! Our breeder advised us to either keep them indoors or to create a cat garden. When the kittens were growing up, we were in the midst of a major building project and so we delayed the creation of the cat garden until after that. During that time, however, we became convinced that this was the right thing to do. They loved being outdoors so much that it seemed almost cruel not to give them access to the garden.
Whilst we don’t own acres of land, our garden is definitely larger than your average town garden so the first thing we had to decide was whether we could really afford, either in monetary or practical terms, to “cat-proof” the entire garden. In the end we decided that there was a natural turning point and we incorporated a gate into the proposal that would allow us, but not the cats, access to the ‘far end’ or the ‘woodland’ garden if I’m being posh! Curiously enough, the gate is at the exact same location at which the previous owners of the house effectively threw in the towel and decided they couldn’t maintain any more garden beyond that point!
Having worked out where it was going, we had to decide what the cat fence would be made from and in the end we invested in a product called Purrfect Fence (yes, groan!). A combination of very tough, plastic coated wire fencing with suspension arms that, theoretically, stop your cat from climbing over it, the product has been used all over the world and, in fairness, has already given over nine years good service in our garden.
The ‘pros’ of having a cat fence are that your cats can wander freely around your garden whilst the neighbourhood moggies cannot. The foxes are also excluded, well mostly that is, apart from one or two over adventurous incursions that we’ve had to deal with over the years. Any mess in the garden is your own cat’s mess and not everyone else’s and, of course, your cats are not annoying the neighbours by messing in their gardens! Given that we also manage when our cats have access to the garden, and it’s certainly never at night or early morning when birds are at their most vulnerable, it also means that our garden is mostly a safe place for birds.
On the ‘cons’ side, it is an additional hassle when climbing plants get entangled in the fence. The cat fence runs along the top of the larch-lap panels in the photo below but you’d never know it due to the over-enthusiastic clematis tangutica ‘Bill Mackenzie’ which swamps it every summer!
If another cat does get in the garden, for example by walking along the various house extension roofs, then it can’t get out by itself (this has only happened twice so far). The biggest ‘con’, however, is that it is almost impossible to erect the fence effectively around trees and our garden has quite a few of them. Add to that a cat who considers the fence to be an assault course and who regards it as his duty to find and test every possible escape route, and you find you have created quite a challenge! Of course once he’s out, he can’t get back in and you have to be alert to his usual routine and anticipate when he’s going to appear on the doorstep (or the roof!) ready to be let back in.
That said, I think it has been a price worth paying for mostly knowing where they are! Of course whilst he’s out and about, I can’t hand on heart claim that he isn’t devastating the local wildlife or causing havoc with the neighbours (like the time he stole steak from next door!)
But returning to our robin’s nest, our cats were definitely not the guilty party. So what went wrong? They nested in a dense viburnum that grows in our neighbour’s garden and is just the wrong side of our cat fence. Our neighbours went away meaning that their spaniel was no longer on patrol. The black cat, which seems to think it owns our entire road, kept climbing the viburnum onto the top of our fence. Every time we saw it appear, John was out there with the water pistol but it was impossible to be on ‘nest duty’ around the clock and at some point the inevitable must have occurred. However, since then we have seen the adults flitting around the garden and on a couple of occasions we’ve seen them feeding each other, so hopefully they will go on to have another brood this spring and may be they’ll have more luck second time around.