In this entry we introduce our new project officer, Pete Cooper. Pete’s job over the coming winter will be to co-ordinate volunteers, lead surveys and try and find as many nests over Devon as possible!
It’s a pleasure to be working with Devon Mammal Group on this project, especially considering that I have spent a disproportionately large time for someone my age working with mammals! I’ve been a naturalist since I could walk, and working with wildlife is all I have wanted to do. I have just completed an MSc in Biodiversity & Conservation at the University of Exeter Penryn Campus (which involved collecting and picking apart vast quantities of otter spraint!), but in my free time I have done a large body of work with both wild and captive mammals. Often this has been with organisations such as New Forest Badger Group, Derek Gow Consultancy, and Cornwall Wildlife Trust.
Harvest mice in particular are a species I’ve been very familiar with. This goes back to when I first saw a colony zipping confidently around their tank at the New Forest Wildlife Park as a young child, and where I later learned skills in their captive care when I volunteered at the Park for two years. This in turn lead to me keeping my own harvest mice as education animals, as their relaxed and curious nature makes them ideal ambassadors for the more elusive members of our wildlife when I take them out to talks and events.
I’ve carried out too many small mammal trapping surveys to count by now, and wild harvest mice have featured, but they are elusive! Generally the time I’m running traps has been during the spring/summer when the animals are above ground in the shrub layer. To work around this, I have placed traps on posts a few feet above grounds in reedbeds. This has proved successful, but the capture rate hasn’t been high, which is typical of the species.
Although I hope to do some trapping over the course of this year’s project, nest searching is a far quicker and simpler method that will ensure definitive ‘tickbox’ answers as to where we can find harvest mice in Devon. And we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. For example, we have very few records from North Devon, but there is plenty of suitable habitat such as culm grassland which is known to be favoured by the mice. By confirming records in 10x10km2 ‘tetrads’, we can see whether harvest mice are well spread over the county, or becoming more isolated and fragmented in their range.
One of the things I’m most looking forward to is bringing people together for the harvest mouse; whether that is volunteer nest searchers, or farmers and landowners that can be made more aware of this animal and the requirements it needs.
The association between harvest mice and the human influence on the countryside is there to see in the name; how can we let an animal that once shook the corn ricks due to their sheer numbers during the harvest fall into obscurity? It’s my hope that my time in this role can galvanise even more people to speak up for our smallest, and possibly most charming rodent.