I am recently back from attending The Mammal Society’s autumn symposium on ‘Non-native Mammals in Great Britain’.  Generously hosted by the engineering firm Arup at their London offices, this was a gathering of amateur and professional mammalogists who were entertained and informed by presentations on the challenges arising from those exotic mammals that have become established in the wild in Britain – deliberately or accidentally – thanks to the folly of we humans.

Talks covered the efforts of Red Squirrels United (the largest invasive species management programme in Europe, which unites more than 30 UK organisations committed to protecting red squirrels) to control grey squirrels and so reduce their impact on our native red squirrels; the four non-native deer species and their booming populations (as well as our two native deer species, which are just as invasive and out of control!); the impacts of edible dormice and fur-farm escapee mink on our native biodiversity; the problem of rats, hedgehogs and stoats on islands where they do not belong; and the threat posed by domestic and feral cats hybridizing with the Scottish wildcat.  We also heard about some ingenious solutions: fertility control is helping to limit the population of iconic feral ‘Kashmiri’ goats on the Great Orme in North Wales; pine martens are helping to reduce the populations of grey squirrels in parts of Ireland and Scotland, with benefits to red squirrel conservation; and a combination of coordinated trapping and the recovery of otters and polecats seems to have driven the mink into a population decline in many areas.

As ever, these conferences and symposia are about so much more than the formal presentations: the lunch, tea and coffee breaks are an opportunity to catch up with old friends and to make new ones; to hear about new mammal research discoveries (I was excited to hear about pine marten eDNA found recently in the Peak District); and to share news about the activities of local mammal groups such as ours, including plans for future surveys.  For example, following the recent publication of the Mammal Society’s eagerly anticipated review of the populations and status of British mammals, which revealed that many national population estimates had to be based on rather inadequate population density data, local mammal groups are to be invited to join in gathering essential information on the abundance of mammals across different habitats. So, watch this space!

Johnny Birks

13th November 2018