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Country diary: Nothing moves far at the escargatoire | Kate Blincoe
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Country diary: Nothing moves far at the escargatoire | Kate Blincoe

The terrain in this area is rolling, with soft hills contrasting against the clear, sunny sky. In the far distance, I can easily make out the tall towers of Norwich city.

In one of our fields, there is a majestic row of mature oak trees. Each tree is adorned with ivy, resembling a cozy scarf around its trunk. Our flock of sheep has moved on to other grazing areas, but traces of their presence can still be seen – they have grazed on all the reachable ivy leaves, revealing a maze of bare woody stems. Clumps of white wool cling to the criss-crossing ivy branches, providing a soft lining for a nest.

The oak tree of hibernating snails, Kate Blincoe An oak tree with hundreds of hibernating snails in it, Caistor St Edmund, Norfolk

Tucked into the ivy crevices and the rough bark of the oak are hundreds of common garden snails. More shells than I can count. Dozens of tiny babies, the smallest only the size of a matchhead, are stuck to larger adults and crammed into the tiniest nooks and crannies as if they will be there for ever. A gathering of snails is known as an escargatoire, a rout or a hood.

The snails are currently in hibernation on the protected side of the tree to avoid the harsh cold weather, and will remain inactive until spring. Due to their high water content, they are vulnerable to severe frost. This area of the farm is preferred by the snails because lime has been consistently added to the soil for sugar beet farming, resulting in a calcium-rich environment that promotes strong and sturdy shells.

I am curious about why snails congregate together – they do not share warmth or communicate like mammals or birds. Perhaps it is simply for safety in numbers. Snails that are nestled among others are less likely to be eaten compared to those on the outskirts. The ground under the tree is filled with crushed shells, possibly from being eaten by a shrew or song thrush.

Suddenly, a glimpse of a white chest and a sleek, black-tipped tail catches my eye. A stoat materializes and disappears, barely noticeable at the edge of my sight. I am surrounded by a mix of swift and leisurely creatures, each moving at their own pace.

Source: theguardian.com