Category Archives: Mammals of Britain

Urban fox on the 72nd floor

The construction company currently finishing off the Shard building in London, which will be the UK’s tallest skyscraper, recently had to call the council to remove a squatter from the 72nd floor: a young fox.  He was surviving on scraps left by builders.  After a check-up at the Riverside Animal Centre, the fox has been released on the streets of Bermondsey, having shown the type of curiosity we associate with cats.

Cleaner rivers in the UK

Otters, water voles and fish are all benefitting from the improved quality of the UK’s waterways, now described as the cleanest since the industrial revolution.  Since almost disappearing from the wild in the 1970s, otters are thriving, particularly in the south west of England, Cumbria and Northumberland.  The population of water voles, highly precarious  in the 1990s, is also beginning to recover.   The good results of stricter pollution controls and extensive conservation work are set to continue in the new year with the introduction of new European water quality directives.  Guardian

Are foxes dangerous to cats?

On a recent BBC wildlife podcast, fox expert Professor Steve Harris, Bristol University stated that the average urban fox will kill a cat every 6 years, and that some 500 cats live in every fox territory. So the risk is tiny.

A Bristol City Council leaflet writen by Professor Harris gives the follwoing advice:

This is very rare; a survey in northwest Bristol, where foxes were particularly common, showed that they killed 0.7% of the cats each year and these were predominantly young kittens. This means your cat is far more likely to be run over, stray or die from a variety of other causes.

Foxes are only a little bit bigger than a cat (males average about 5.5 kilograms) and are equipped with a set of sharp teeth. Cats have an equally sharp set of teeth, plus some pretty unpleasant sharp claws. If a fox tackles a cat, it risks severe injuries and that is the last thing it wants. Every night a single fox will meet many, perhaps dozens of cats and most encounters are either indifferent or amicable.

Cats and foxes will usually ignore each other. However, some cats are aggressive animals and will go for a fox, sometimes to drive it away from their garden or food bowl. Usually a fox will flee but if this is not practical and particularly if it is cornered, it may defend itself against the cat. Then both animals may be injured.

Finally, although foxes live in family groups and meet up periodically to play or socialise, they hunt alone. So stories of “packs of foxes” roaming the streets killing pet cats are totally fictitious.

Above photo from Wiki Commons of fox and pet rabbit by Oosoom.

Mammals in British gardens

92,000 people have taken part in the RSPB’s survey of garden wildlife, Make Your Nature Count, taking in 69,000 gardens in the UK. In addition to birds, the RSB asked participamts to look out for certain species of mammals. Above image: Nigel Blake (rspb-images.com)

Fourteen per cent  recorded the presence of moles, with half of these detecting moles regularly. Unsurprisingly, most moles were detected in rural gardens, being most frequently seen (or at least their molehills) in Wales in 25% of gardens, compared with 15% in Scotland and 13% in England. There are no moles in Northern Ireland.  Roe deer were recorded in 5% of gardens, with most sightings came from Scotland, where they were seen in 16% of gardens, compared to 4% in England and only 0.5% in Wales. There are no roe deer in Northern Ireland.

Hedgehogs were seen in 30% of gardens in urban areas, and more than one in seven saw them regularly. Hedgehog expert Hugh Warwick said: “Gardens are clearly very important for hedgehogs, a great example of a truly wild animal not only at home with us but also of great benefit to gardeners. “We should treasure the fact that they live comfortably in our gardens and so many people can get nose-to-nose with them.” The Guardian

A lucky 5%, in my opinion, saw badgers, including more than 20& in Somerset and Pembrokeshire.

The results:

Badger 5.50
Fox 26.23
Muntjac deer 1.91
Hedgehog 23.35
Roe deer 2.22
Mole 7.33
Red Squirrel 0.77
Cat 79.41

Foxes on the doorstep

An alleged fox attack on twin baby girls, while they slept upstairs in their east London home, has made front page news and provoked considerable debate.  As people swap their fox experiences, an interesting picture emerges of fox behaviour in an urban setting.

The comments posted in the Guardian suggest that the fox density in certain areas of London is very high, with not enough food to go round, in some cases resulting in a population of unhealthy, short-lived animals.  These city and suburban foxes have lost their fear of people and see them as a potential source of food, with some extraordinary encounters taking place: Continue reading Foxes on the doorstep

Grey squirrel pie fad

Gamekeeper Paul Parker with some dead Grey Squirrels

Grey squirrel pie continues to gain in popularity across the country. I enjoyed this comment in the Manchester Evening News, explaining the origin of the debate on what squirrel actually tastes like.

“Country squirrels live on a diet of sweet things like berries, unlike their urban cousins who will eat mostly anything found thrown on the streets. This diet can make their meat taste sweet, and if cooked right can have a taste between duck and lamb (without the greasy fat usually produced by both cooked animals). The squirrel I ate had a sweetish taste although not much meat for a feast! “

Image from Pest controller moves south to feed demand for squirrel pie

Deer eat nightingales out of home

A key reason for the dramatic decline in England’s nightingales is the rise in the deer population, particularly the small muntjac, a prolific all-year breeder.  By eating their way through the understorey of woodland, deer effectively destroy the nightingales’ habitat.

Between 1994 and 2007, nightingale numbers in England – the bird is absent from Scotland and Wales – dropped by 60 per cent, and its range shrank towards the South-east, with concentrations limited to Kent, Sussex, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.

Independent

Wildlife trips in the Llyn Peninsula

A great choice for wildlife trips in the Llyn Peninsula is offered by Shearwater Coastal Cruises. who run coastal wildlife cruises along the Lyyn Peninsula, visiting seal and seabird colonies. Check out their site for full details and prices.

They have written to me with the following interesting information on the sealife of the area:

“On most of our cruises, we can expect to be joined by the resident bottlenose dolphins. The catamaran hull format of “Shearwater” seems to be particularly attractive to the dolphins that obviously enjoy riding the considerable double bow-wave that is produced. Our cruises take us to both of the two main Grey Seal colonies off the Llyn Peninsula. A group of approximately 150 seals inhabit the islands of St. Tudwals, off Abersoch and a much larger colony is to be found around the shores of Bardsey Island. Small satellite groups occasionally detach themselves from these main populations and may be found in places such as the Gwylan Islands and Cilan Headland with a more notable, semi-permanent group residing on the northern coast of the Llyn Peninsula, near Porth Dinllaen/Nefyn golf course.

The rocky coast and offshore islands of the Llyn Peninsula offer important nesting sites for seabirds. Notables such as Manx Shearwaters, Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots, Black Guillemots, Shags, Cormorants, Kittiwakes, along with other Gull species are commonly seen. Terrestrial predators such as Ravens, Buzzards and Peregrine Falcons, inhabit the sea cliffs and rocky islands as do the Chough which is a common resident along these shores and, happily, is firmly established and doing well.

This northern part of Cardigan Bay is also blessed with some very unusual and spectacular marine wildlife. Few people realise that these waters provide a home for the Leatherback Turtle, the only warm blooded reptile in existence. These huge creatures, often weighing 1 metric ton and approaching 3 meters in length spend most of their adult life here, feeding on the vast shoals of Barrel Jellyfish (Rhysostoma).

The Harbour Porpoise, that seems to be under threat elsewhere can be seen readily, feeding off the headlands of the Peninsula, particularly within the area of Bardsey Sound. Here also one can sometimes see the enigmatic Rissos Dolphin, that otherwise plies up and down the Irish Sea in pursuit of squid and other prey. These creatures have a blunt nose, are light grey in colour and bear numerous large scratch marks, inflicted during play/mating activity.

Easily the most spectacular creatures we encounter on our wildlife cruises are the Bottlenose Dolphins. The groups we see are part of the Cardigan Bay population that exceeds 360 individuals (although we are finding more each season). Whilst running our wildlife cruises, we have for the last few years undertaken dolphin Photo-ID and monitoring tasks on behalf of the “Seawatch Foundation”, a charitable body responsible for monitoring cetaceans around the coast of the UK.

Our work with “Seawatch” has given us a considerable insight into the behavioural characteristics of the dolphins. We can also, now, readily recognise individuals (from marks, scratches and pieces missing from dorsal fins). “Seawatch” also kindly send us feedback from our inputs and it is interesting to examine the travel itineraries of some of the individual dolphins we see. We have for instance, taken a photograph of a dolphin on a particular afternoon and the same animal has been recorded off New Quay, almost 50 miles away the very next day. We often see the same groups day after day, but occasionally we will encounter a huge pod, numbering up to 50 individuals that have simply come up to our area from the south of Cardigan Bay on what seems a fleeting ’round-the-bay’ tour, describing a large arc and heading back south again.

Having been running the “Shearwater Coastal Cruises” for the last 9 years we do get a feeling for the absence, decline or abundance of wildlife species from season to season.Anecdotally, of course, we notice that the auks, Herring Gull and Kittiwake numbers vary the most from one year to the next. We seem to have a gradual increase in the Chough population and Herons, with their heronry in Pwllheli town, seem to have increased markedly.  Over recent years we have noticed the presence of the odd Red Kite, presumably due to the expansion of the mid-Wales population and Peregrine Falcons seem to have increased.

The Grey Seal population seems to have steadily increased over this period and we see more dolphins now that we did before, but this may be due to our becoming more familiar with the location of their favourite feeding areas and developing a more practiced eye.  We have not noticed any decline in the number of porpoises we see, but we have realized for some time that they will always keep well away from any areas where there are dolphins.  The area does attract a lot of recreational boat traffic at peak holiday times and we notice that dolphins can be reluctant to visit or remain in their favourite feeding areas at these times.  The opportunity is not lost on porpoises that soon take their place once the dolphins are absent.

In summary, the wildlife we see daily seems to be thriving and numbers seem to be at least similar to those we saw when we began 9 years ago, with a number of species increasing markedly.  Furthermore, the Llyn Coastal area is apparently being blessed with the increasing presence of the otter – as if we needed any further encouragement to put to sea every day!