Worcestershire Mammal Group

Promoting mammals in Worcestershire

Author: Josh Humphries

Spring Search for Small Mammals!

Taken from Flickr.

After surviving the mild (and often stormy) winter, the promise of warmer weather enticed the Worcestershire Mammal Group from their winter slumber.  After a bit of a stretch and a preening of whiskers, the group decided to welcome in the spring season by focusing on some of our most widespread mammals in the country….. small mammals!

Many British mammals can be considered ‘small’, but the term ‘small mammals’ generally refers to land-mammals which have a head and body length less than 130 mm long.  In Britain, this encompasses 11 species from the families rodentia (mice and voles) and insectivora (shrews), including the house mouse (Mus musculus), wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus), yellow-necked mouse (Apodemus flavicollis), hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), harvest mouse (Micromys minutus), field vole (Microtus agrestis), bank vole (Clethrionomys glareolus), common shrew (Sorex araneus), pygmy shrew (Sorex minutus) and water shrew (Neomys fodiens).

Although these animals can often be seen scurrying across a path, or hanging from the jaws of fluffy (who probably cause it’s demise), the small and secretive nature of these animals makes it very difficult to survey for them.  Live trapping equipment (such as longworth traps) greatly increase the chance of encountering these mammals, and is definitely one of the best ways to find out what small mammals are in an area, and a great way to observe these fascinating animals up close.

The group decided to plan a small study to live-trap and identify small mammals in Trench Wood, a stunning Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and ancient woodland jointly owned by the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation.  The woodland is managed for migrant birds and butterflies, but the group wanted to see if the system of rides, tall herbs and grassland areas provided habitats for small mammals!

Credit to Poppy Morris.

Thirty-two Longworth traps were locked open (so nothing could be caught) and baited on the evening of the 7th of April.  Each trap was baited with fly castors and oats. The casters (fly pupae – often used by fishermen) were popped into the traps in case any shrews were caught. A fistful of hay was also pushed into the traps to ensure the unwilling prisoners were warm.  On the evening of the 8th of April, traps were set and re-baited.  The traps were placed along one of the rides, mainly out of sight from public, undercover.

Credit to Poppy Morris.

The next day on April 9th, 16 volunteers met early (8am) to ensure any captured mammals could be released ASAP, to minimize any stress.  Johnny Birks led the group, and systematically check each longworth trap.  Any animals that were present were identified, sexed and those that wanted to have ago at handling them, were provided with guidance on how to handle them safely – both for the mammal and the handler! Johnny demonstrated that if you hold a small mammal to your chest, it apparently calms them!

Credit to Caroline Hornberger.

Overall, the group had great success, with 3 Bank Voles, 11 Wood Mice and 1 feisty Yellow-necked Mouse captured.  Following the event, all records were sent to Worcestershire Biological Records Centre (WBRC).

A good morning was had by all, and a lot of mammaly fun!

Many thanks to the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust for allowing us to survey in their woodland, and to Dominique Cragg for arranging!

Please Note: If you are thinking of using traps too, bear in mind that catching shrews without a license is illegal. Specialist licences are required from the necessary statutory agencies. In our case, the course leader (Johnny Birks) had a licence. 

River Survey 2016 – The results are in!

Common-otterThe results of the Worcestershire Mammal Group’s first summer survey are in!

A huge thank you to everyone who took part this year in our first ever summer survey, we had some great days out and excellent records with plenty of otter signs across the county. The Worcestershire Biological Records Centre have now collated the results, and you can read all about them on our web site at www.worcestershiremammals.org/river-survey-2016-results

A boar-ing day? I don’t think so!

14606286_10154685888596952_5527850243572352063_nI apologise for the late blog post, but better late than
never! On the 22nd of October, several members of the Mammal Group met in the depths of the Forest Of Dean to embark on a wild boar walkabout. Wild boar ecologist Dr. John  Dutton very kindly agreed to lead us around the area, to look for signs of wild boar.

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Wild Boar Track

Sadly we did not encounter any live wild boar (some members found a road casualty after the walk though), but there was an abundance of evidence!

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Andy helpfully pointing out a gouge on a tree. Probably ‘tusking’ by boar.

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Wild boar mud wallow.

This included tracks, mud wallows, mud up trees (a scratch following a nice wallow) and hair. Boar hair is pretty distinctive, it interestingly sports a ‘split end’….. obviously not using the right shampoo then!

All in all though, it was a lovely autumnal day, spent in a nice stretch of woodland with like minded folk. The day ended with grub in the newly re-furbed cafe at Beechenhurst.

A big thank you to Dr. John Dutton for leading the walk, and to all those that came along. I hope to see most of you soon at one of our next events.

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The Great Feckenham Mouse Hunt!

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A harvest mouse (Micromys minutus), showing off it’s envious feats of acrobatics.

If I asked you to picture a harvest mouse, you’d probably conjure up this classic image: a tiny acrobat balancing on a stem of grass, perhaps hanging on with a semi-prehensile tail. Glancing at a distribution map of harvest mice in Worcestershire (Worcestershire Mammal Atlas), you’d be forgiven for thinking that this BAP species is scarce. Only 26 records exist from 1995-2007! Weighing little more than 6g, Britain’s smallest rodent is notoriously rare to spot, thus is woefully under-recorded in Worcestershire.

After a successful assembly late last Autumn, myself and four folks agreed to push the creation of a Worcestershire-based mammal group. Spearheaded by James Hitchcock and Johnny Birks, this small nucleus (or ‘administrative back-end’ according to Johnny Birks!) organised a harvest mouse training day for local mammal enthusiasts. The trust’s own Feckenham Wylde Moor was selected as the ideal training site, due to the presence of fantastic reed beds.

Waiting for instructions from james and johnny

The cold and mud didn’t deter eager volunteers!

On a frosty morning, the mammal group and a merry band of volunteers met at the entrance to the reserve. Johnny passed around his collection of harvest mouse nests, whilst explaining the technique to search for them (akin to David Bellamy ‘swimming’ through grass). We then marched to one of the site’s reed beds, and were let loose to search for our own harvest mouse nests. We were looking for a characteristic woven ball, constructed from stripped green leaves.

Searching for 5-10cm diameter nests initially seemed a bit daunting, however regular whooping heralded the successful discovery of a nest. Whilst this was going on, I spent a good while tearing into tussocks of frozen reeds, emerging with nothing but numb finger-tips. But luck struck, I found a nest! The ball was so small and so delicate… a real natural treasure.

Harvest mouse nest

The beginnings of a non-breeding harvest mouse nest.

After around an hour of searching, the mammal group bid farewell to the morning volunteers, before retreating to feed and water in a suitably warm den (or a local cafe).  The second lot of eager volunteers (accompanied by radio 4’s Brett Westwood) arrived at around 1:30pm, and the fun began again.

In total, 19 harvest mouse nests were found (2 breeding 17 non-breeding)… the ice and mud was worth it in the end!

I would like to thank the Worcestershire wildlife trust for allowing us access to their beautiful reserve, to Johnny Birks for teaching the survey technique and to all the volunteers who attended the mammal group’s first ever event. Hopefully we can all help ‘fill the gaps’ on one of Worcestershire’s most enigmatic mammals!

By Josh Humphries

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