Somerset Mammal Group’s Edward Wells gives his top tips for mammal spotting, tells us more about the species we could see, and how you can help protect these precious animals.
Dusk and dawn
Most mammals are reluctant to be seen in the daytime, so the best time to go looking is dusk or dawn. As the light fades rabbits come out to feed in large numbers and deer emerge from woodlands. Bats, badgers, dormice and hedgehogs are mainly, or entirely, nocturnal and mice and voles are far busier at night. Fortunately mammals often leave plenty of evidence behind and with practice you can identify their footprints, feeding remains, nests and droppings.
Gardens are a rich source of food so you needn’t put out food specially to attract mammals.
Hedgehogs, moles and shrews will find plenty of invertebrates to munch on and can help control pests. Milk and bread should never be given to hedgehogs; it’s bad for their health. Tinned pet-food is fine for an occasional treat, and will prove popular with visiting badgers and foxes.
Hedgehogs hibernate in a specially constructed nest made of leaves, seeking out a suitable spot from later November onwards. Do double-check before lighting bonfires or turning over compost heaps. If you come across a hedgehog in its nest try not to disturb it. Waking-up uses up valuable fat reserves needed to keep going through the winter.
Wood-mice are attracted to bird feeders, so place them close to the window to give you a better view. Hazel dormice occasionally venture into rural gardens, so you never know who might turn up for dinner.
You can read more about the mammals in your garden on our wildlife gardening pages.
Tell us what you’ve seen
The Somerset Mammal Group wants to hear from you. So whether you’ve spotted a molehill in your lawn, a nibbled hazelnut, or caught a glimpse of a weasel we’d really like to hear from you. This is really important information that can help save some of our most vulnerable wildlife.
• Submit online at www.somerset-mammals.org.uk
• Call or email Agni Arampoglou at Somerset Environmental Records Centre firstname.lastname@example.org 01823 652424.
5 to see in Somerset
Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)
Hedgehogs are one of our most easily recognised and charismatic mammals, and the only UK species with spines. Following a worrying 20 per cent drop in hedgehog numbers between 2001 and 2005, an action plan (BAP - Biodiversity Action Plan) is now in place to help save them.
Bank Vole (Myodes glareolus)
The bank vole is most at home in deciduous woodland and hedgerows but does visit gardens, occasionally. Voles have a round snout, and their eyes and ears are much less prominent than in mice and rats. The field vole is similar in size but has grey-brown fur the bank vole is reddish brown and it tends to live in ungrazed grassland. The water vole is much rarer but it has a few population strong-holds in Somerset and sometimes takes up residence in gardens.
Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)
One of our commonest mammals often found in gardens. The wood mouse is orange-brown with a white tummy, unlike the house mouse which is mostly brown. Wood mice have a rarer relative, the yellow-necked mouse, so called because of its distinctive broad band of yellow fur across its chest. Somerset provides the ancient woodlands these animals needs but more records are needed to give the full picture.
Common Shrew (Sorex aranaeus)
All three species of shrew that we have in Somerset are protected by law. The pygmy shrew and the water shrew seem to be less common but may just be under-recorded. The common shrew has a tricoloured coat, dark brown on top with a pale brown band above the off-white belly.
Stoat (Mustela ermine)
It is always a bit special when you catch sight of a stoat. They are sleek and fearless carnivores quite capable of catching prey much bigger than themselves. Weasels are very similar but much smaller; the surest way of telling the two apart is by the black tip stoats always have to their tails Some stoats turn white, or partially white in winter, known as ‘ermine’.
Join the mammal group
Gathering information about these species is key to local conservation. Joining the group is a great way to get involved in this vital recording work, learn more about the wildlife on your doorstep, and meet others who share your interest.
Email Edward Wells, email@example.com
Did you know?
The return of the polecat to Somerset was confirmed in 2005, having been absent for many years. Distinguishing escaped ferrets from wild polecats is difficult, as they often have very similar markings, so getting a true picture of their come back remains a challenge. If you think you spot one send a photo or detailed description to the mammal group for ID.