The Peoples’ Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) collates and analyses any records sent in from many counties and sites which are part of the National Dormouse Monitoring Project (NDMP). The registered sites record any nests found in the boxes and the abundance, sex, weight and breeding condition of any dormice found in them, or the lack of them. The sites in the project are checked by people who hold a licence to do so, mainly volunteers. The licence is a requirement from Natural England, as dormice are classified as ‘Vulnerable’.
I started a dormouse monitoring site about 15 years ago in Oysters Coppice and Gutch Common, with new boxes being added progressively. We check the 173 boxes once a month from April to November and the records are sent to PTES. We had none in Oysters Coppice but a few in Gutch Common wood this year.
On 11th November, I attended the 2023 Dormouse conference in Reading. Here are some of the notes I took.
Ian White, from PTES, gave an up-to-date report about the state of Britain’s dormice (you can read the full report here). They have declined by 70% in monitoring sites since 2000 and are on the verge of being reclassified as ‘endangered’. However, they are known to live along roads and railways, in dense scrub and in conifer forests, so there may be more than are known.
In the last century, there were dormice in all but two counties in England and Wales. In this century, they have become extinct in twenty counties. Some captive bred dormice have been reintroduced successfully in some of these. Reasons for the decline in dormice:
How to survey for dormice? Survey methods frequently used:
What can we do for dormice? Here is a list of some conservation efforts:
Most of these facts come from the Dormouse conference but some opinions are mine (Debbie Carter 2023). Ed.: Our society has two dormouse survey licence holders and are willing to assist any local prospective surveyors in starting out a new surveying or monitoring project.
Dr Phil Baker, from Reading University, gave us a fascinating talk on hedgehogs recently.
We learnt that there are 4 species of hedgehog in Europe, with slightly overlapping ranges in some areas, although there is only one native wild species in the UK (in addition to pet hedgehogs which are of a different species). Hedgehogs belong to the order Insectivora but are actually omnivorous and a highly adaptable species, which evolved in woodland edge habitats about 15 million years ago. They usually have 1 litter a year, although occasionally have two, and hibernate through the winter prompted by cold temperatures. Their main food sources are earthworms and insects, but they can also eat some terrestrial molluscs and eggs of ground-nesting birds. Their average life-span is 3 years although the record is of a 16-year-old hedgehog.
It is very difficult to know exactly how many hedgehogs there are, the extent of their decline and the reasons for their decline but there are a few known facts known through different sources. However, Phil pointed out more research is needed on all aspects.
Hedgehogs were abundant in the past, and were particularly favoured by the Enclosures Acts, which created lots of hedgerows, in the postmedieval period. Hedgehog populations started to fare badly with the popularisation of game shooting, and as possible predators of ground-nesting game bird eggs and chicks, they were routinely killed by gamekeepers. They could have gone extinct if it hadn’t been for WW1. Since WW2, numbers of hedgehogs have steadily decreased (estimates range between a 50 and a 90% reduction).
A series of circumstances are liable to the decrease in the number of hedgehogs and their admittance to rescue centres (which on average have a 50% rehabilitation success):
Over the last few years, a series of charities and conservation organisations have promoted measures to promote hedgehogs, such as hedgehog houses and hedgehog tunnels. These have had mixed success, while it shows some people are really enthusiastic about hedgehog conservation, it is not enough people and significant achievements have not been obtained. Wildlife rehabilitation centres are increasing in number and capacity and there is evidence that they can be a factor in slowing down the rate of decline. Thus, hedgehogs may actually go extinct if we don’t change enough decline factors.
To end on a positive note, I want to highlight the following positive actions out of Phil’s talk:
As an ambassador for Dark Sky International, Steve Tonkin gave us a comprehensive talk on the importance of doing all we can to reduce nocturnal light pollution. Not only does it cause a disruption to the normal life of a wide range of animals, but it is having a long term effect on species numbers. Bright lights at night cause confusion, leading to death on roads, predation by larger animals and fewer opportunities to mate.
We heard examples about robins who get exhausted, mistaking artificial lights for daylight, as they sing through the night and migrating birds who are disoriented by lights and fly into buildings. There are parts of the world where already crops have to be pollinated by hand; for instance, in parts of Canada for their blueberry crops and in parts of China for their apples because insect colonies have vanished.
Steve warned that we still have a way to go in further decreasing the light pollution across the AONB, otherwise we risk losing our dark skies designation. The light pollution over Tisbury was a particular concern to see when he showed us the satellite imaging of the AONB.
So how can we help? https://darksky.org/ shows the way with guidance on how to assess your own home lighting, particularly in making sure that any outdoor light is appropriately placed with motion sensor activation and downward facing beams in warm not blue tones, to minimise disruption to wildlife. We can also look around our own community to see whether there is unnecessary lighting on public buildings and seek to persuade decision makers to implement changes.
Steve Tonkin, Dark Sky Advisor to the Cranborne Chase AONB, will be talking to us at our next meeting, at 7:30pm in the Victoria Hall, High Street, Tisbury on Thursday 12 Oct 2023 about Why dark skies matter: the importance to wildlife of responsible lighting.
Steve has a life-long passion for astronomy which, of course, has made him aware of the effects of light pollution, and he has been raising the issue with anyone who will listen for the last 30 years.
After a first career as a telecommunications engineer, he took a degree in Environmental Studies, did postgraduate work in technology policy, and went on to teach physics, maths and astronomy before retiring to concentrate on astronomy and outreach activities.
Steve supported the Cranborne Chase bid to become a designated International Dark Sky Reserve and his primary task now, as the AONB’s Dark Skies Advisor, is to continue and consolidate the good work that has already been done, and strengthen the AONB Reserve’s standing.
The bar opens at 7pm. There's no need to book. Members and those under 21 have free entry. Guests £2 on the door or please contact us for our BACs information as we do prefer online payments.
This is a reminder for those already signed up for Debbie Carter's Field Trip on Wednesday 16th August to visit the beavers' habitat on the River Frome. This trip is fully booked and we are operating a waiting list for a space, so if you can no longer make it, please get in touch via the Contact form.
We will be met by local wildlife expert Eve Tigwell who will guide us to the nearby nature reserve to see the impact beavers are having and in the hope of seeing beavers. No dogs.
Meet at the Nadder Centre car park at 7:30pm or at the Asda Shopping Centre car park on Castle Road BA11 5LA just off the A362, roughly an hour later.
Distance, Difficulty and Footwear - We have no knowledge of the distance we shall cover, nor the state of the paths, so stout footwear or boots are recommended.
We shall start the walk at dusk and continue into darkness, so a good torch is advised.
Meet at the Nadder Centre car park on Sat 3rd June at 10.30am or approximately 1 hour 15 minutes later at the Westhay Moor Reserve BA6 9TX. The car park is at OS ST 456 437, just north of the junction between Westhay Moor Drove and Dagg’s Lane Drove, between the villages of Westhay and Godney.
Distance, Difficulty and Footwear: Approximately 5 km/3 miles on flat gravel paths which may be a bit muddy if there has been recent rain. Good stout shoes should suffice rather than wellingtons. Bring a packed lunch and refreshments.
This Field Trip has limited numbers. There may still be places if you've not yet signed up and want to come. Equally please let us know if you're on the list, but can no longer make the date. We are now using the email address email@example.com for organising lists for events, so please contact us there.
Congratulations to our committee member Debbie Carter, who has been shortlisted as a finalist in the Green category for BBC Radio Wiltshire’s Make a Difference Awards.
As most of our members are aware, Debbie has been a very active and essential committee member for many years, in addition to other nature-related causes in Tisbury and surrounding area she’s dedicated a lot of time, effort and passion. Woodlands Alive organiser, parish council’s tree warden, WWT’s nature reserve warden, water vole surveyor, dormice surveyor… Debbie was conducting a botanical survey near the community field (which she was instrumental in obtaining for the enjoyment of all the residents of Tisbury!) when she received the call from BBC to let her know about her nomination!
So we are very pleased to hear Debbie has been shortlisted. They’ve had more than 200 nominations in total across the eight categories, with finalists being shortlisted by a panel of four, based on anonymous nomination letters. There will be an award ceremony on Saturday 23rd September, where they will be announcing the overall winner for each category. In the meantime, you will be able to hear Debbie’s story, as well as that of other finalists, on interviews BBC Radio Wiltshire will be conducting over the summer.
We wish Debbie all the best for this award and thank her for all she does for nature and all of us who value nature.
by Inés López-Dóriga
On 20th April we had our final evening talk given by Simon Martyn with photos provided by his wife Mandy.
Simon was the European Director of Earthwatch, an International NGO which started out in Boston, USA over 50 years ago but is now worldwide with offices in Australia, UK, India and Japan.
Earthwatch sets up projects both for Wildlife and Archaeology with scientists running the projects, helped by a workforce of volunteers. They carry out research and provide essential statistics to establish conservation schemes for threatened species or habitats as they work alongside local people.
The talk was ‘Glimpses of Wildlife Behaviour’ and was divided into sections.
Firstly, we were shown various habitats and their wildlife such as the much depleted herds of bison in Yellowstone Park, the plains of Africa with the wildebeests and various antelopes, plus the harsh, freezing environment of the Arctic.
Secondly, the emphasis was on territory and, especially during the breeding season. Male lions guarding their prides and fighting off the opposition were illustrated. We saw how Roe and Red deer will also become very aggressive fighting off other bucks and male tigers will kill another male tiger’s cubs in order to mate with the female and pass on his genes. We saw a grisly photo of this. (NB. Badgers also do this, as I can witness).
The effects of climate change were visible in the photos of droughts in Africa, drying up the rivers and water holes, causing many animals to die and causing mayhem at the water points with competing animals.
Thirdly, Simon showed us photos of how many species co-operate with others for the benefit of both. For instance, egrets and finches will hitch rides on buffaloes to eat the ticks and crocodiles will stir up the water and expose the fish for the storks on their backs. In India the Langhur monkeys work as lookouts for the Spotted deer when a tiger is about, shrieking in terror.
Finally, we were treated to humorous photos of various animals and birds in compromising and amusing positions including a harassed mother Brown bear trying to control her three naughty cubs. One was up a tree, another near the river and the third heading up the mountain.
It was an entertaining and illuminating evening with superb photography and a nice change from all things local.
by Debbie Carter
Rabbits are renowned as prolific breeders. Females are fertile at 3-8 months old and have a gestation period of around a month. They give birth to a litter of 4-12 kits and may be ready to mate again the next day. This, combined with the fact that they can breed throughout the year, means that in the right conditions, populations can grow rapidly, hence the expression ‘breeding like rabbits’. This proved disastrous when 13 rabbits were introduced into Australia in the 19th century where, in the absence of suitable predators, they spread across the continent in 50 years, devastating crops and the natural environment alike.
Rabbits, originally native to Iberia, spread around the continent in Antiquity and were introduced into the British Isles first by the Romans and then the Normans, as a source of meat and fur. In places, artificially built warrens were looked after by warreners, so landowners had a constant supply. Warren and coney (the old name for rabbits) crop up in numerous place names around the country as a result. Of course, rabbits are perfectly capable of making their own burrows, using their sharp claws to dig into the ground, often under sheltering scrub. From there they will venture out to feed. They have virtually 360% vision, as befits a prey species, and are always on the lookout for threats. Their white tail, or scut, provides a flashing warning sign to others when running for cover.
A sizeable colony can have quite an impact on the grassland in vicinity of the burrows, creating a closely-cropped turf, benefiting mining bees and wasps as well as herbs that cannot compete in a longer sward. Rabbits provide food for a number of species that prey upon them, including stoats, buzzards, polecats and foxes.
When we moved to Tisbury, we were struck by the absence of rabbits in the surrounding countryside. Although rabbit numbers have been increasing each spring, populations keep getting knocked back by autumn, perhaps due to diseases: myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease. When the former was first introduced to this country in the 1950s, it wiped out most of the population, since then its impact has reduced but stays active. What impact the dearth of rabbits in this area has on the breeding success of its predators? I am afraid that for the immediate future, the rabbits we are most likely to see locally are the Easter Bunnies on Easter cards (how rabbits became associated with this is an entirely different question!).
P.S. In Weymouth we were encouraged to use the term bunny in deference to Portland superstitions about use of the R word. I hope any readers from Portland have not been too traumatised by this article.
by Andrew Graham
[editor - with apologies for the late upload this month]
Now is the time when we think of Mad March Hares: seeing the animals chasing around in a field, jumping over each other and “boxing”. This behaviour, which is actually not restricted to this month, is all about courtship or partly, the refusal of courtship. Male hares – bucks - are more numerous, so females – does - that are unreceptive to amorous mates may vigorously fight them off. A female leading a potential mate on a chase across a field may be testing his speed so she can select the fastest male to father her offspring. She can produce three or four broods of young a year. These are called leverets and are born fully furred and ready to run. They will keep themselves hidden during the day returning to the doe at sunset for a daily feed and are weaned in a month.
Brown hares are preyed upon by foxes, stoats and buzzards but also subject to poaching and illegal hare coursing. They do not burrow like rabbits but live above ground and so rely on their speed to evade predators and escape to cover. They are the fastest British land mammal and can reach 40 mph at full pelt. Its long back legs provide this speed and results in a distinctive loping gait very different to that of the rabbit which is about half the size and weight. Rabbits have black eyes, very different to those of the hare which are a wonderful amber. Its ears are much longer than the rabbit with distinct black tips. Their fur is golden brown with a white belly. The other hare seen in the mainland UK is the mountain or blue hare which is mainly found on Scottish heather moorlands.
The best time to see Hares is early or late in the day. During the day they may lie up in a depression on the ground called a form. They will sit tight when approached before hurtling off at the last moment, often stopping after a while to look back then loping off at a more sedate pace. If you are lucky enough to spot them before they speed off, you can have a staring match and see how inconspicuous they make themselves, hunkered down with their ears lying along their back.
You are most likely to see them in arable farmland and wide-open grasslands, woodland edges and hedgerows – places which provide shelter. So they benefit from a mixed agricultural landscape rather than one devoted to a single crop. The downs along the Shaston Ridge and the arable fields adjacent are a favourite place to see them and they can be seen in vicinity of Tisbury although dogs running off leads scare them away before most people see them.
Unfortunately, hare’s numbers are estimated to have declined by 80% in the last 100 years. Some are now suffering from rabbit haemorrhagic disease which further threatens them. We are fortunate to still have these beautiful animals in the countryside around us.
by Andrew Graham
Photo: Avocets (Izzy Fry)
The headers display photos taken by our members. Do get in touch via the Contact Form if you'd like to submit a photo for selection.