Category Archives: Mammals of Britain

Dormice campaign

A hazel dormouse

The People’s Trust for Endangered Species is urging the public to look in woodlands for half-eaten hazelnuts to help track down and record the whereabouts of the elusive, endangered dormouse. The hazel dormouse is difficult to find at the best of times, as Lewis Carroll reminds us – mainly because it spends most of its time asleep. According to Dr Pat Morris, an internationally-regarded expert on the dormouse, “They chew a little hole in the side of the nut and then suck out the contents. It’s very distinctive. It looks like a hole’s been drilled in the side”

The Trust notes “Hazel nuts, where available, are a favourite food of the dormouse. And luckily for us dormice leave distinctive tooth marks when they gnaw into the green hazel nuts, before eating the kernel and discarding the shell to fall to the forest floor. Thousands of volunteers took part in the first two nut hunts of 1993 and 2001, sending in hazel nuts from over 2,000 sites and helping to identify almost 500 woodlands that had dormice present across England and Wales. Now we would like you to get out into the woods again and help us find more nibbled nuts this autumn and winter.”

Here is a photo of a hazelnut eaten by a dormouse taken from the Offwell Woodland & Wildlife Trust website, which notes “a smooth circular cut with tiny radiating teeth marks is the sign of the Dormouse”. I am a little confused as this seems to contradict the above “they chew a little hole in the side of the nut and then suck out the contents.”
Haznut.jpg (31264 bytes)

The pygmy shrew: the smallest mammal in Britain

Pygmy Shrews can’t stop eating. Their metabolism is so fast that two hours after a meal they’re starving again. Hibernation is out of the question as they’re too small to store fat reserves, so they have to remain active during the winter, eating ceaselessly to keep warm. They are, in turn, an important part of the diet of Tawny and Barn owls, among other predators. They can live up to 15 months. Continue reading The pygmy shrew: the smallest mammal in Britain

Saving the Red Squirrel

Research into the pox being spread by the resistant grey squirrel, which is decimating the vulnerable red squirrel population, is underway in Liverpool University. Dead red squirrels with antibodies to the virus have been found in the National Trust woods at Formby, giving hope that a vaccine or controlled breeding programme can save the species. The work is urgent, as grey squirrels are now expanding into Scotland, despite all attempts at creating buffer zones and cullingGuardian

Protecting bats

The general decline in British bat populations is worrying, but the legal protection they are afforded can be a source of good news. Stringent fines (of up to £5,000 per bat killed with additional penalisation for any roost damage ) oblige property owners and developers to adapt to their presence.  Here are some cases where priorities were got right. Continue reading Protecting bats

Foxes move to the city

Foxes are now more common in urban areas than the countryside, according to an RSPB survey about wildlife in Britain’s gardens: 38% of urban nature-watchers had seen one compared to 23% in rural areas. Large zones of the countryside have become inhospitable to wildlife, with intensive mono-crops and no hedgerows or woods to provide cover. So it’s no wonder that urban areas, full of potential hiding places and easy pickings in rubbish bins, are becoming increasingly attractive habitats for foxes.

The rise in the urban fox population is giving more business to pest controllers, who are called to trap the animals and have them put down. But this is a flawed strategy, as the RSPB point out:

Fox culling is unlikely to have any effect on the urban fox population. If a fox is removed from a food rich area, its territories will simply be seized by another. The most humane and long-term solution to deterring foxes is to remove or prevent access to things that are attracting them to the area, like food and shelter. Foxes can also be deterred by barriers such as fencing or prickly plants and chemical repellents.

Daily Telegraph

Mausoleum for a fox hunter

The ever entertaining Irelandbyways mentions here in one of its routes the remarkable mausoleum of fox hunter Robert Watson (1822 – 1908), Master of the Meath Hunt.  He was so convinced that he would be re-incarnated as a fox that he had a temple-crowned mausoleum built in the form of a foxes’ earth, impenetrable to foxhounds and with tapered escape tunnels. In his last will and testament, Watson stipulated a ban on fox-hunting, in perpetuity, on his Larchill estate. Believing what he did, one wonders why he didn’t ban it before.

Image from buildings of Ireland

Hedgehogs being eaten by badgers

A sharp drop in the number of hedgehogs in Britain is being blamed on the booming badger population developing a liking for them. The decline is also explained by the fact that both animals compete for the same foods.  Researchers have found a strong link between areas where badgers are doing well and declines in hedgehogs. Numbers are falling especially in the south and south west of England, and in urban areas. Another factor may be that the loss of hedgerows and the spread of intensive farming has reduced cover, so making hedgehogs easier to catch for badgers. More

Whale and dolphin conservation holiday in Scotland

Get involved directly with whale and dolphin research by visiting some of the remotest islands in the Hebrides on this great conservation holiday: witness some of the most breath-taking scenery, gain sailing skills and contribute to the protection the marine environment – all in one trip!

Regular visitors include minke whales, common dolphins, Risso’s dolphins plus the occasional ‘rare species’ while our resident populations of bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises are sure to delight. As part of the field team onboard our research vessel, Silurian, you will be helping us to produce the data sets that our science department will use in logistical analysis in the winter months.

All in all, a very exciting and worthwhile way of spending nine days.

More here

Wallabies on the Isle of Man

WILD LIFE: Ballaugh Curraghs wallaby, photographed by Rob Evans

Although the famous Peak District wallabies were wiped out by harsh winters in the 1990s, there are still several wild populations of wallabies in the British Isles, the largest of which is probably today on the Isle of Man which is home to a breeding colony of around 100 red-necked wallabies. These Manx wallabies have steadily increased in numbers since a pair escaped from a Wildlife Park some years ago. Continue reading Wallabies on the Isle of Man

Wildlife calendar

The remarkable BBC documentary Secrets of the Sett filmed badgers making their beds before venturing out for a night’s foraging. Indeed, one of the signs of an inhabited sett is old straw left at the entrance by house-proud badgers. Cornish wildlife artist Dick Twinney has captured this aspect of badger behaviour in an engaging painting, included in the 2100 calendar he’s put together. Take a look at his keenly observed and vividly textured images in the Living Countryside calendar available in a limited number of 500 signed editions.

Humpback whale found dead in Thames

A humpback whale has been found dead in the Thames near Gravesend, the first ever to be stranded in the river. The young male may have died of starvation. This is an very unusual event: there have only been 12 strandings of humpback whales in the UK in the past 20 years.  BBC

See also analysis of this story by “Although it’s obviously a sad outcome in this instance, the post-mortem examination has given us a rare opportunity to examine a truly extraordinary animal at close quarters. Information gathered through examinations like these will hopefully help further our understanding of such animals and also help contribute to improving their conservation status.”

Designer bat house in London

A strange white cube stands among the lagoons and trees in the London Wetland Centre at Barnes. It’s the result of an international design competition, won by two architecture students, Jorgen Tandberg from Oslo and Yo Murata from Tokyo. As well as stylish, it’s highly practical from a bat’s point of view. The internal layers of wood sheets offer cosy roosting sites suitable for a variety of species: eight of Britain’s 17 native bat species have been recorded in the reserve. The material is Hemcrete – a mixture of hemp and lime that’s breathable and absorbs CO2. It’s hoped that the box will be an inspiration for architects, showing that art and consideration for nature can go together. The inauguration of the bat house will celebrate the centenary of the birth of naturalist and wildlife artist Sir Peter Scott.

Watching seal pups in Wales

Grey seals in Wales give birth around September-October. A good place to see the conspicuous white pups is Cardigan Island Coastal Farm Park which has enough attractions to satisfy all members of a nature-loving family. As well as seals, there’s a good chance to spot Bottle-nosed Dolphins, resident in Cardigan Bay. Birdwatchers can observe Peregrine Falcons or Red-billed Choughs. For young visitors (or not so young) there are friendly farm animals, including Dilwyn the Donkey.