Whilst I frequently see mammals in Warwickshire I have been rather slack at recording them and submitting details to the county mammal recorder. I have mended my ways with the advent of the newly re-launched Warwickshire Mammal Group.
Brown Hare are fairly common around my home in the Upper Leam Valley, Warwickshire.
On 9th May Sarah and I attended the launch event of the Warwickshire Mammal Group at the HQ of the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust at Brandon Marsh. This piece is based on my recollection of what was said, and I hope I do not misrepresent the group in any way.
The current group is a ‘reincarnation’ of a previous one and is designed to focus on species not covered by specialist groups in the county and work with those groups (the Warwickshire Bat Group, Otter Task Force, Warwickshire Badger Group and Warwickshire Dormouse Conservation Group) regarding species that are.
An excellent talk by mammologist Dr. Roger Trout on the UK’s mammals and their conservation was followed up by a second on situations where conflict can occur between humans and populations of wild and naturalised mammals. I focus here on issues raised in the talk given by Ben Wood of the Warwickshire Mammal Group which dealt with one of the main activities of the group, the mapping of mammal distributions within the county. As with any other taxonomic group our mapping of mammal species distributions is only as good as the information upon which it is based. As a result the distribution maps tend to reflect record submissions rather than the actual distributions of animals. Oddly this can have its most significant effect on the maps for common species. People are perhaps more likely to report rarities than common animals with the result that the atlas map for a species like Brown Rabbit would appear, taken at face value, to suggest it does not occur across large parts of the county. An excellent web site has been set up for the group and it includes an easy to use online recording from which can be found here http://warksmammalgroup.wix.com/warks-mammal-group .
It is surprising how frequently records can be generated. Live sightings are most likely to involve Grey Squirrel or Brown Rabbit, but in recent weeks I have encountered several Muntjac and Roe Deer along roads whilst travelling to sites for breeding bird surveys early in the mornings.
Roe Deer, Upper Leam Valley, Warwickshire.
These same journeys have yielded a couple of records of dead mammals including a Brown Rat which is surely one of our commonest species but one which I seldom see. Some rarer species are re-colonising Warwickshire and mapping the spread of one of them has depended on roadkill specimens. To assess the recent expansion of the Western Polecat in the UK, east from its former restricted range in Wales and the borders, it has been necessary to study dead animals (mostly picked up on roads) to determine their identification from feral Polecat/Ferret hybrids (a more detailed account of this work can be viewed in my blog entry posted on 11/02/15).
Western Polecat, Napton-on-the Hill, Warwickshire.
Another mustelid which is making a comeback is the Otter and this species provides a superb example of the value of distribution mapping. It is thought (but as far as I know not scientifically proven) that the expansion of the UK Otter population has reduced that of the alien American Mink. The latter species was the principal cause of the decline in the UK population of the Water Vole which is now showing signs of recovery. Accurate mapping of changes in the distributions of all three species would provide fairly compelling evidence that the shifts were related to one another which would be fascinating in itself and useful regarding conservation management. Conversely the Western Hedgehog is declining in the UK and thus it becomes important to map its distribution so as to focus conservation efforts in appropriate areas. My only recent record was of a roadside casualty but during the launch day activities we were shown a hedgehog tunnel which is a simple triangular affair which houses a footprint pad set between two trays which hold a harmless dye. Some small mammal trapping was also undertaken and was an unqualified success, with virtually every trap occupied and several species caught including Common and Pygmy Shrew, Bank Vole and Wood Mouse.
Common Shrew, Brandon Marsh, Warwickshire.
Small mammal trapping is unlikely to be undertaken by most people, but an easy way to generate records of small mammals is to collect and analyse owl pellets and during the launch day we all attended workshops on pellet analysis.
All in all it was a great day and I would say there were two main messages to come from it: that it is important to submit records so that we have an accurate knowledge of mammal distributions and that you do not have to be an expert mammologist to contribute valuable information. Ecology includes the study of the abundance and distribution of organisms, it was my hobby before it was my profession and I hope this brief discussion gives some hint of the significance of both the discipline and the work of individuals and groups such as the Warwickshire Mammal Group dedicated to it. The web site of the Warwickshire Mammal Group can be found here http://warksmammalgroup.wix.com/warks-mammal-group .