Ear to the Ground - nature in the Calder Valley by Steve Blacksmith: The wonders of Down Under are now part of Valley scenery

Viewed at the farm by Steve on the Todmorden leg of his Calderdale Way walk, a wallaby mum with her young. Steve says: 'The young one, the 'joey', was nibbling grass without leaving its mother's pouch - very endearing.'
Viewed at the farm by Steve on the Todmorden leg of his Calderdale Way walk, a wallaby mum with her young. Steve says: 'The young one, the 'joey', was nibbling grass without leaving its mother's pouch - very endearing.'

There’s a farmer in Todmorden who keeps deer within tall fences for the meat trade. He also keeps wallabies, and we chatted about them when I met him whilst doing the Calderdale Way the day before his name hit the headlines.

Unfortunately he and his manager have fallen foul of the food safety regulations, as reported in last week’s editions of the Todmorden News and Hebden Bridge Times.

They have pleaded guilty to not keeping records properly when selling horses. An £8,000 fine plus even more legal expenses, I understand, must have left the farmer slightly stung in the wallet, and his manager has a a suspended jail sentence of four months. I haven’t heard if they’re going to appeal against the sentences.

Some people around the world, including people brought up in the Hindu traditions, would find the idea of eating beef as abhorrent as most of us find the idea of eating horseflesh.

Yet it is a popular roast just a few miles across the Channel in France and Belgium.

Personally I find the eating of animals unnecessary. I was brought up to eat meat but decided to give it up in 1984, and I’ve never eaten it since, apart from a couple of occasions whilst accepting the hospitality of people abroad.

I’ve once been given a chicken breast, and once barbecued meat. Luckily the meat was so gristly most of my hosts’ family were giving it a few chews, then taking it out. So I felt I could do that without offending anybody.

I do eat fish, trying to keep to the most sustainable kinds, but most of my protein I get from eggs, dairy, peas and beans.

I can’t resist a luscious cake! Lentils are widely mocked by non-veggies as being food for cranks, but a well- cooked Tarka Daal which is based on lentils, is one of the best of curries.

There are lots of other great vegetarian curries, and to cook at home without meat is quick, cheap, easy and varied when you get into it, with the added bonus of no melted fat to block the drains up.

OK, the dairy industry is linked to the beef industry, but I choose organic dairy as often as possible, so the treatment of the animals is humane and the soil will be properly taken care of without the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

There is a branch of Compassion in World Farming in Calderdale, and from the main website, I was directed to the “try a meat free week” website. Search for Meatfreeweek.org.

Why not have a go, it won’t kill you, and you may live longer and stay healthier?

When our walk brought us to Heptonstall, I was taking a picture of the Colden Valley below us.

A companion said “we’re being watched”. I looked where she was looking.

Right behind us was a roebuck, his antlers withthree points showing he was a full grown male, just watching us.

Roe Deer are now all over Calderdale.

We see them on nearly every walk, and occasionally I’ve seen Red Deer.

Once a hind (actually twice in the same spot a week apart) and another grazed with sheep in the Cliviger Gorge beside the Burnley Road.

That was just a young one, a kid, when I first saw her, then I saw her months later more grown up.

These are said to be escapes from deer farms, and are often a hybrid between Sika and Red Deer.

There are very few herds of pure Red Deer in Britain now, due to escapes of Sikas with which they have interbred.

Another deer that has been reported a few times near Halifax is the Fallow Deer.

This can be recognised, if a male, by his wide spreading antlers that broaden out into plates with points on them; they usually have spotted coats all their life, like the young ones of other species.

Another common introduced deer in some parts of the country is the Muntjac; about as big as a medium sized dog.

In Norfolk it’s easy to see the slightly larger Chinese Water Deer.

These have no antlers. Instead the males have long incisor teeth to spar with, like sabre-toothed tigers, though not as fierce!

The earliest Natural History record of any kind for this area I have seen, from the Middle Ages, was quoted from the Wakefield Court Rolls in the Halifax Naturalist about 1900. Stephen deWallaseys was convicted of having taken a stag and a kid (i.e. Red Deer) at Walshaw.

The records say he was put to death for breaking the King’s hunting laws.