October Update – The First Nests of 2017

Photo: Dave Smallshire

We’re just over one month into the Harvest Mouse Project, and heading into peak nest finding season. In mild conditions the mice will still be using their breeding nests right into October, and some of the first nests we found were indeed very solid and likely still in use thanks to the mild conditions of late.

However, the winds of winter are drawing in, and young harvest mice will be scattering out from their homes and scurrying away into the wider countryside. This leaves their nests still intact, but without the risk of us possibly disturbing any residents. Although we’ll be running the project throughout the winter, as the weather worsens the nests can get increasingly damaged through the season, so from now through December is a great time to go looking.

We already trained up our first cohort of nest spotters at our October training day at Meeth Quarry. Nest spotter extraordinaire Derek Crawley travelled all the way down from Staffordshire to share his wisdom and technique with our volunteers, which was rewarded with 8 nests spotted around the site.

This is a very good number for any survey, but it was just beaten in the records so far by a survey I undertook with the team at Wildwood Escot the week after. There we found 9 nests, with the first five spotted in the space of about two minutes! We’ll be returning here on Friday 17th November for another training morning as well as our first live trapping session – please feel free to e-mail me if you wish to attend.

Pete with one of the Escot nests

Many of our surveys so far have been on Devon Wildlife Trust reserves, among them those that include culm grassland. The culm is an ecologically unique habitat to this part of Britain, and it also happens to be ideal for harvest mice thanks to the long swards of purple moor grass. We’ve managed to find nests on some culm reserves, but in a lot of cases we’ve found it’s almost too good a habitat! The dense structure makes finding nests especially difficult, and coupled with the large area some reserves cover, it can become an almost literal case of a needle in a haystack.

We’re looking at ways to monitor the sites after the grass has been cut or burned to see if this makes finding the remaining nests any easier. Additionally, we hope to engage local farming representatives that steward much of the culm in North Devon with our work, raising not just awareness but hopefully action to ensure these animals can thrive in this valuable habitat.

So with peak season now underway, it’s the time to get trained up! Each week we’ll be hosting informal training mornings looking for nests, and sometimes running live traps. As previously mentioned, the next one will be at Wildwood Escot this Friday from 10am. The remaining dates in the run-up to Christmas are:

Sunday 26th November (Location TBC)

Saturday 2nd December (Loddiswell Village Hall)

Thursday 7th December (Location TBC)

Sunday 17th December (Location TBC)

If you wish to come to any of them and sign up as a nest spotter, please drop me an e-mail at harvestmouse@devonmammalgroup.org

Finally, to keep the harvest mouse project going we need your help! We have just set up a page at JustGiving; any donation, no matter how small, would be greatly appreciated https://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/devonmammalgroup/harvestmouse

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