Flamboyant Mr Pheasant


I’VE BEEN pleased over the last week or so to see and hear a cock pheasant in the field at the back of our house, although our labrador doesn’t share my enthusiasm. Like many male birds it is far more glamorous than the female, but this breed takes it to extremes. I particularly like his ‘ears’, which are purely decorative.

He makes up for his over-the-top appearance by having the most discordant call I know. It is usually likened to a rusty hinge.

The common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) is native to Asia and was introduced into Europe by the Romans. It is thought to have arrived in Britain with the Normans in the 11th century. The birds were not widespread until the 19th century when shooting them became popular with royalty and aristocracy. The introduction of the breech-loading shotgun in the mid-1850s enabled large numbers of game birds to be killed in a short time. In 1913 King George V shot more than a thousand pheasants out of a total bag of 3,937 in a six-day competition between seven guns at Hall Barn in Buckinghamshire, seat of Lord Burnham, the then proprietor of the Daily Telegraph.

Young birds are now reared extensively in captivity, and according to Wikipedia around 47million are released each year on shooting estates, mainly in England. (This seems a huge number to me – can it possibly be right?) They must be one of the easiest birds to shoot as they are pretty poor fliers. If they manage to evade the guns and find a safer place to live, the male will usually gather several females in a ‘harem’.

Here is a video from Sweden of a cock trying to interest a hen which seems quite unmoved by his exotic looks. At the end they are joined by a second hen and all three decide eating is more important.

The females nest on the ground and lay around a dozen eggs. The chicks are self-sufficient almost as soon as they hatch, and develop quickly, starting to fly after about two weeks. As befits such a dandy, the male bird takes no part in the upbringing. They roost in trees, and you can get a hell of a fright if one bursts out of the foliage with maximum clamour when you walk past at night.


Horse of the Week

THE Shire is the largest breed of horse in Britain. A stallion stands about 17.2 hands (a hand being 4ins) or nearly 6ft at the withers (the ridge between the shoulders), and can weigh well over a ton. A mare is a bit smaller. The distinctive feature is the silky feathering on the lower legs. Fortunately, considering their size, they have an easy-going temperament.

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) says: ‘Originally referred to as the Great Horse, the Shire was of enormous importance in medieval Britain carrying knights into battle. As armour became lighter the need for a strong battle horse declined and the Shire instead became a valuable agricultural workhorse. Before the introduction of steam engines and tractors to work the land, Shires were essential for the farm. The breed was also a familiar sight in the towns and cities where it was used by hauliers and breweries. Forced into decline by agricultural mechanisation it survived due only to the support of a small number of individual breeders and breweries.’

Shire numbers fell from well over a million to just a few thousand by the 1960s and the breed was in serious trouble. However, dedicated breeders came to the rescue, and it has since seen a resurgence in popularity both as a working animal and riding horse. The RBST still classes the breed as ‘at risk’ with an estimated population of fewer than 1,500 in Britain.

Here is an interesting video about preparing a patient Shire for a display.

At one time London breweries had an estimated 3,000 Shires as dray horses, but now only three in the country use them. One is Hook Norton Brewery in Oxfordshire, and this is a BBC report about the horses returning to the road after the ‘pandemic’.

Here’s a delightful clip of a newborn foal finding its (very long and spindly) legs

and here is a two-month-old showing its paces.

Finally, I was surprised to find that there has been a race for Shires held annually at Lingfield, though I cannot find out if it is still going. It was first held in 2013 and since then has been a big attraction, with top jockeys taking part. This is the 2015 Flying Feathers Stakes over two furlongs, and the winner was ridden by double Grand National winner Leighton Aspell.

You can read more at the Shire Horse Society website. 


WHILE looking around YouTube for Shire horse videos, I came across this clip of TV presenter Hayley Moore catching a loose horse, at quite some risk to herself, at Chepstow in 2018. (I expect racing fans are familiar with it.)

She knew what she was doing, having grown up around horses. You can read an interview with her here. 


Wheels of the Week

THIS week I am featuring a car with which I am familiar, the Riley One-Point-Five. My parents bought one in 1958 and I can still remember the number, OCX 226. As some readers will know this is a Huddersfield registration – my father liked a garage there called Appleyard’s. There is a Subaru dealership in Huddersfield called Colin Appleyard, and its website says it opened in 1971. I wonder if Colin was a member of the same family?

Our car was plain mid-grey but I couldn’t find a picture of one like it. The car below, 1489cc, was registered in July 1961.


The model went into production in 1957. The Riley Motor Club website says: ‘One-Point-Five was seen by many as a return to the early Riley principles of producing a small compact, sporting saloon. It boasted a neat four-door, four-seater lightweight body, mated to a lively 1.5 litre engine, finished off with a smattering of leather and wood luxury. Although a product of the British Motor Corporations policy of badge engineering and rationalisation, and with underpinnings from the humble Morris Minor – the One-Point-Five can rightly be viewed as a true successor to the Riley Nines of the 20s and 30s . . . The styling was traditional 1950s, which, fortunately, stayed away from the American craze of fins and acres of chrome; it was smart, understated and wore its Riley grille and badge with pride.’

Here is a great advert from the time:


Motor magazine tested a Riley One-Point-Five in 1961. It had a top speed of 82.4mph and could accelerate from 0-60mph in 18.9 seconds. Fuel consumption was 29.8mpg. The test car cost £815 including taxes of £240.

At the same time the sister Wolseley 1500 was produced, slightly cheaper and with a slightly lower spec.

By the time production ended in 1965, 19,568 Rileys and 103,394 Wolseleys had been made.

For a labour of love, this account of the restoration of a Riley One-Point-Five takes some beating.

You can read more at the Riley Motor Club website, and at Riley One-Point-Five.

If you would like to buy one, here is a 1964 model with 88,000 miles on the clock for £5,995. The advert gives its full history.

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