Wednesday 16 April 2014

Small mammals vs. large mammals

Working with animals and teenagers may at first seem a hairy sort of idea, but then again you might be surprised.

At the end of a manic March, a group of around 15 of the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership's Youth Rangers visited our woodlands and grasslands, over in the Land East of the Railway Line. The main aim of the day was to survey Gatwick's small mammals, targeting the different habitats to see what we could find. 

A Longworth trap in woodland undergrowth

Vacancies: a free overnight stay with full board

In the 3 days leading up to this event, I set out some humane Longworth traps which were checked and reset every 12 hours. They were stuffed with plenty of warm hay, a generous stash of porridge oats, fresh carrot and mealworms to suit all mammally tastes.
  Surveying over several days gives time for the small mammals to acclimatise to the presence of the traps, so every day our capture rate increased. On the last day we got a record number of mammal captures, so it was fortunate having the Youth Rangers to carry out the brunt of the work!

This group did an awesome job, becoming efficient at emptying each trap carefully into a bag, recording the weight and sex of the critter before releasing it out and finally resetting the trap. I was impressed by how well they communicated with each other and minimised the stress to these small furry beasts. Here's a selection of what we came across...

Bank Vole (Clethrionomys glareolus)

Bank Vole (Clethrionomys glareolus)

Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

Yellow-necked Mouse (Apodemus flavicollis) with distinctive yellow collar across the chest

Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus), back out to freedom

Out of the 28 traps, almost every single one had triggered overnight (a few possibly accountable to intrepid slugs), 19 of them containing a small rodent. We found 3 different species, the commonest being Wood Mouse with 14 individuals counted.

Checking our Hedgehog tracking pads

Lots of tiny tracks which are much too small for Hedgehog, so most likely Wood Mouse or Bank Vole

But the work did not stop there, as I wanted to get my money's worth out of this keen bunch! We also checked the Hedgehog tracking tunnels and cracked on with building the new stands for future Harvest Mouse surveys (an idea we blatantly plagiarised from the Surrey Mammal Group - thanks again Jim!).

Creating Harvest Mouse trap stands

I had also set up a camera trap in a hidden part of the woods, as I am keen to finally pick up recorded evidence of Gatwick's Badgers. We trekked over to the site and found that our badgery lure of raisins and peanuts had all been hoovered up, so it was with excitement that we played back the camera footage....

Tip: when setting up a camera trap, check the batteries are working. bad. Still, it's always a good day out with the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership volunteers and I'm lucky to work with such an ecclectic bunch of people of all ages. Thanks again to everyone involved: Tom S, Tom F and the Sussex Mammal Group for lending your time and equipment, and finally to all of you teens - you're al'ight, yeah.
  If you or anyone you know is interested in local wildlife and conservation around the Gatwick area, check out the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership webpage

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