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Meeting a fascinating animal lover from Buckinghamshire

PUBLISHED: 16:46 21 March 2016 | UPDATED: 16:46 21 March 2016

Feeding time for the feathered section of Martin's menagerie

Feeding time for the feathered section of Martin's menagerie

Archant

Welcome, welcome! Unless, that is, you are a noisy glis glis, rat under the floorboards, squirrel determined to wreck the roof, or moth relishing the wool carpets. Sandra Smith meets a fascinating animal lover

Martin Holman’s affinity with animals embraces a trio of domestic pets as well as pheasants, ducks and chickens - a regular source of fresh eggs - living in purpose built pens at the end of his Buckinghamshire garden where their calls and clucking are absorbed by the surrounding countryside.

“Having been raised on a farm environment, I was used to being around animals from a young age,” he shares, “from wildlife in the fields and hedgerows to an array of pets. We had rabbits, gerbils, dogs, cats, budgies and even a tortoise at one point.”

We’re sitting in a rustic kitchen where Poppy and Bessie – two lively rescue dogs – vie for their owner’s attention. A middle aged cat strolls by, glancing disdainfully at the commotion before seeking tranquillity upstairs. This scene isn’t unusual, of course, even though the number of avian species here probably defies the norm. Nevertheless I sense a conundrum. You see, as well as relishing the presence of animals, Martin is also a pest controller, with an email address that begins with the word ‘ratman’.

So what, I wonder, differentiates an animal from being welcome to one that’s a nuisance?

“There are diverse perceptions. We all have different tolerances of what we regard as a pest. Some people don’t see squirrels in their loft or rats in the back garden as a problem, but pests can have a public health implication. Rats carry Weil’s disease and salmonella for instance, both of which are easily transportable to human populations.”

For someone who finds squirrels cute and their agility entertaining, I soon learn more about the havoc they can impose.

“Squirrels are capable of just about anything and will take birdlings from nests. In a loft they chew through electricity cables and displace loft insulation. To come into our homes they may jump from an adjacent tree to get onto a roof and chew their way in, although they will also pull tiles to one side. You’ve got to admire their ingenuity!”

Despite harbouring an underlying respect for these rodents, Martin doesn’t allow sentimentality to infiltrate his job, no matter which species he’s been assigned to catch.

“Glis glis have few natural predators and are spreading out across the Chilterns. They are natural survivors, ingenious. Living in social groups these arboreal creatures, usually found around beech plantations, can be extremely noisy in lofts. You need a licence to catch them and they have to be dealt with under the terms of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.”

I’m tempted to question whether older, country properties are more susceptible to such unwanted visitors. And do people readily admit to having a problem?

“Animals will try to come into properties old and new because they offer warmth and shelter from weather and predators. Mice gain entry via airbricks or by climbing up plants such as wisteria. Rats, bed bugs, even wasps – people will always blame someone else, for instance wasps must be coming from a nest in a neighbour’s house because it’s untidy. Yet overgrown gardens aren’t a natural food source. Neat and tidy gardens with compost bins and bird feeders create an attractive environment for pests.”

Over tea and biscuits, with the dogs patiently awaiting the possibility of crumbs, I marvel at Martin’s discretion. He understands that whilst asking about the process of dealing with unwanted pests, I prefer not to know specific details. Indeed, such compassion surely forms a key part of the service he offers.

“I make three visits to a domestic customer including an initial assessment and my suggestion of how to deal with the situation. I don’t always say what is going to happen, maybe give just a brief outline then leave them with a safety data sheet. My first priority is to get rid of the pest but I have to make sure during the course of treatment that everything stays fit, healthy and safe. It’s important to protect everything else in their environment, including pets. It’s good to know from customers what they have been experiencing, over what time period and whether it has happened before; if they are hearing the same now as last time.”

Keen to receive some preventative advice, I learn the importance of avoiding feeding birds too close to the house and checking that brickwork and airbricks are in good order. Door seals under a garage should be in a healthy state of repair and, for anyone in new properties, it is worth ensuring that the ground hasn’t subsided where electricity cables cross the threshold.

“Glis glis are clever little rascals and, like rats and mice, often find their way into food bins or airing cupboards. I’ve even known rats to appear in the loo during the night,” chuckles Martin, “and moths are a common problem. I suggest a thorough clean of the environment, moving furniture from the original footplate and vacuuming underneath, because good carpets have a high wool content.”

With a thriving business I suspect looking after his own animals is a welcome chance to relax. From his Butlers Cross home he walks the dogs – who also attend obedience classes and gun dog training - early each morning. Half an hour or so daily is dedicated to the birds which include golden pheasants, Peking bantams and miniature silver Appleyard ducks.

“The attraction of the birds is they are beautiful to look at. They behave differently around each other at different times of the year. The dogs and cat are used to them. Bantams wander around the garden and ignore the dogs until I want to put them away, when I use Poppy to direct them into their pens.

“I like all my pets in their own way. One of my bantams will fly onto my outstretched arm and the pheasants feed out of my hand. Dogs are lovely companion animals and it’s nice when Bitsy the cat wants some affection - always on his terms though, bless him.”

The combination of empathy, humour and an easy going manner make Martin engagingly personable. My admiration, however, extends way beyond hospitality. For his appreciation of animals is balanced by a role that ensures the rest of are able to live pest-free.

Contact him at ratman01@talktalk.net

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