Terry ducked into the low tunnel, pleased the five people following were so quiet. Twenty metres on, they arrived in the cramped dugout with its narrow slits facing across the glade in the young birch wood. It wasn’t long before a small grey snout appeared, followed by a the cub. Terry felt his companions hold their breath as several more cubs and their mother appeared.
Walking back through the darkening evening, everyone was quiet, reflecting on what they had seen. For Terry, the Wolves really were the icing on the cake – fantastic, wonderful animals he loved to watch – and the animals that had secured his family’s future. This evening he’d earn as much as he’d have earns in a week as an under keeper, and then there was the way his wolf watchers treated him, as a hugely respected expert. A mile away, he reflected, from his cynical boss’s ‘Just do what it takes to put the birds over the guns – and remember you’ll be out of a job if you don’t’. Or the guns – most were real gentlemen, but there was always the money element who judged a man solely by how much he earned – and on that basis an under keeper was worth slightly less than a retriever with a good pedigree.
The Wolves weren’t reliable, of course, but with so much else around there was always something to show people, the Pine Martens, Beavers, Ospreys, Eagle Owls to name just a few.
Terry regretted the decade away after he lost his job – but in that time he’d made the money and gained the skills to build his own eco-house and he scored a maximum on the Government’s privilege scheme to attract people back to the new uplands – and what a change he found ! New woodlands springing up naturally, alongside the few remaining farms, a host of new wildlife, rejuvenated rivers and, best of all a growing, young population.
His wildlife watching business got off to a good start – but he needed more publicity. He remembered that at the height of the battle over grouse shooting Chris Packham had said he’d do what he could to help any keeper who had lost out. Back then, of course, he was the bogeyman and Terry blamed him for the loss of his job. But why not give it a try ? A month later Terry watched the TV crew draw up in front of his house. Coffee inside was tense but as soon as Terry and Chris walked through the garden gate into the woods they clicked: a magical day later, and an applauded half hour documentary later, and Terry was booking a year ahead.
Terry thought about the trout they’d be eating for supper – caught by him that morning, three times the size he remembered thanks to the Alder and Birch and the Beaver pools. His freezer was full of venison and Boar, too – despite the Wolves there was still enough to go round. It amused him that people had thought shooting would eliminate Boar again – some chance ! Alongside his wife’s renowned sausages, they were also stars of his popular night walks – watching bats, Nightjar and Woodcock, but with the little stripy piglets seen through night vision gear the stars of the show.
Of course, like anyone Terry still faced problems: the neighbours were a bit mixed – he got on well with the professional mountain bikers who always respected his advice about avoiding sensitive spots, the sheep farmers still worried him, despite the generous compensation for the rare losses to Wolves, but he really didn’t understand the Buddhist meditators at all – at least they were harmless and loved the environment. And they were all fighting together, against a dozy local authority, to extend the school, which shot from near closure to Portacabin-overcrowding in just a decade.
As Terry thought about the dream family holiday he thought he’d be able to afford at last – an East African Safari – he reflected on the extraordinary journey from the day grouse shooting went – whoever would have guessed he’d be here doing the work he loved more than anything in this new, rewooded environment, better off and happier than he could ever have imagined.