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Wildlife Trust - How to … enjoy garden mammals

PUBLISHED: 14:54 07 January 2011 | UPDATED: 16:04 20 February 2013

fox

fox

Remember Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox and the wonderful Mrs Tiggywinkle from Beatrix Potter? These are just two of the fictional personalities given to the fox and hedgehog over the years, both mammals you may be lucky enough to meet in your own ...

The red fox belongs to the same family as the wolf, jackal and domestic dog. It can be found all over Britain and is probably the most successful land mammal in the northern hemisphere.

Foxes have adapted particularly well to urban environments, moving into large cities after World War I when suburban Britain, with its network of gardens stretching from the edge of the countryside, really got going. Although urban foxes are known for scavenging refuse their naturally wild instincts are still finely tuned, pouncing on mice in the rough grass of railway embankments and industrial estates, hunting for worms on lawns and playing fields, feeding their cubs on a regular supply of woodland birds, squirrels, rats and the odd urban rabbit.

Right now it's the middle of the breeding season and you may find a garden location has been chosen for an underground 'den' where a vixen will be rearing her cubs - a favourite place is under the garden shed. If you find one please do not disturb it as the vixen will only be there until her cubs are weaned, usually in August.

Foxes can be a great benefit in the garden, feeding on rats, mice and feral pigeons. Most encounters with other large animals such as cats generally result in the two animals ignoring each other or the cat coming off best.

Hedgehogs

With its spiky coat, long nose and endearing little face the hedgehog is one of the most easily recognised of British mammals. But did you know that they're very agile climbers, capable of scaling high walls which they get down from by rolling into ball and dropping down to the other side?

They can also squeeze through extremely small holes, so if you'd like to encourage them into your garden but think your wall is too high, why not cut a small hole at ground level? It will become quite a thoroughfare for all manner of small creatures.

Young hedgehogs will soon be leaving their mothers and in the early autumn will seek a winter nest. They often choose garden sites and will gather dry vegetation in a quiet corner where they're not likely to be disturbed such as under a hedge, beneath a shed, in a compost heap or even a garage!

Gardeners should love hedgehogs as their favourite snack is fresh slugs. You can encourage them by putting out food and water throughout the year, especially in dry summers when grubs and worms are difficult to find. They like to eat minced meat, fresh liver, dog or cat food (not fish based) or even scrambled eggs. Don't give bread and milk as it will upset their digestion - clean fresh water is better, given in a shallow bowl.

Slug pellets are a great threat to hedgehogs, so try using beer traps or sprinkling fine sand around the plants you want to protect (though with hedgehogs in your garden your slug population should be under control anyway). Ponds are another hazard, though a couple of bricks or a wire net will help hedgehogs get out if they fall in.



DID YOU KNOW - a hedgehog can walk two miles during a night searching for food and an over-excited hedgehog can run at a top speed of 6 mph - but only in short bursts!


Wildlife on your doorstep - Wild Flowers

At this time of year Gloucestershire's hedgerows, road verges and meadows are alive with scent and colour due to the abundance and variation of wild flowers we're blessed with.

In the Cotswolds the grasslands are predominantly on limestone. The soils are thin and nutrient poor, so this means lots of different wildflower species may be found in a small area. Good examples are the commons around Stroud and nature reserves such as Elliott (Swifts Hill). Take a close look at these grasslands and you can expect to see such little gems as purple milk vetch, pyramidal orchid and the wonderfully named fairy flax.

In the Severn Vale and outside the central Forest of Dean, richer soils tend to be deeper and more naturally nutrient rich, so the wildflowers found here might include the elusive green winged orchid, greater burnet and the reptilian adders tongue fern. In the central Dean the soil is much more acidic, so it supports a distinct but limited range of species including the dainty heath bedstraw, tormentil or even lousewort.

If you can't get out into the meadows, just cast your eye over the local road verges as you travel around to see cowslip and primrose nestling beneath the swaying heads of cow parsley. White oxeye daisy and the purple flowers of the knapweed can even be seen on the sides of main roads and motorways.

Whilst each type of grassland faces its own particular threats there are some which are universal. Grasslands were once found in large swathes across the countryside, but these have become increasingly fragmented as substantial areas were lost to cultivation. As a result, remaining grassland areas are too isolated for species to spread from one to another.

In Gloucestershire there are a number of initiatives which aim to help protect and manage these special sites. The Wildlife Trust owns and manages many wildflower meadows and grasslands and works closely with landowners to help them manage their sites appropriately.

For now, as well as appreciating the cultivated flowers in your garden, take a closer look and enjoy what is blooming in the countryside as well.

Uncommonly common - MICE

Mice generally elicit two types of reactions. They either send people scurrying to stand on the nearest chair, or reduce them to the type of cooing more commonly saved for small children.

In Gloucestershire there are five types of mice that are integral to our unique mix of wildlife:

Harvest mouse

This is Britain's smallest rodent, weighing less than a two-pence piece. Harvest mice are famous for being the only 'old world' mammal to have a truly prehensile tail, which means they use it to help them climb, wrapping it around stalks of wheat for stability.

Harvest mice like dense vegetation and tend to live in hedgerows and reed beds. They are at their most energetic at dusk. Unlike the dormouse, they do not hibernate but tend to build a winter nest and sleep for long periods, waking during milder spells to eat. Many harvest mice die of the cold in particularly hard winters.



Harvest mouse facts


Size - 5-6 cm in length (not including tail)


Colour - reddish-brown fur with white underparts


Distinguishing features - naked, prehensile tail


Diet - mainly seeds and insects


Wood mouse

One of the most common mammals in Europe, the wood mouse lives in woodland, grassland, hedgerows and gardens - so it's the one you're most likely to see in your own back yard, but not to be confused with the house mouse.

They are agile climbers and are most active at night. They nest below ground, often sharing a nest with up to three other wood mice, in complicated burrow systems which are used by consecutive generations. Occasionally they'll nest above the ground in trees.

Wood mice can be a bit of a pest for gardeners, as they enjoy snacking on bulbs, beans, peas and tomatoes. However they are themselves a favourite snack for predators such as foxes, weasels, owls and domestic cats.

Wood mice are not endangered, but are very important as a source of food for carnivores and birds of prey.



Wood mouse facts


Size - 8-10 cm in length


Colour - dark brown fur, silver grey below


Distinguishing features - large ears and protruding eyes


Diet - seeds, buds, fruits, insects, worms, snails and fungi


The dormouse


Immortalised for sleeping in a teapot in Lewis Carol's 'Alice in Wonderland', the dormouse is perhaps one of the UKs most distinctive and rare mammals. They are found mainly in woodland where there are lots of different types of trees and shrubs, though they can also be found in hedgerows and coniferous plantations.



Dormice travel via tree branches and rarely come down to ground level except to hibernate. They spend their days in a tree hollow or nest made from stripped honeysuckle bark and leaves, and venture out in the evenings to feed in the canopy.



The dormouse's reputation for being sleepy is well deserved as it spends up to six months of the year asleep. They hibernate in ground nests, rolled up in tight balls to conserve every last bit of energy until spring.



Dormouse facts


Size - 7cm in length (not including the tail)


Colour - sandy


Distinguishing features - bushy tail and prominent black eyes


Diet - primarily flowers, fruits and insects


Talents - their hind feet can turn backwards enabling them to hang upside down to feed


The two remaining types of mouse are the ones you're most likely to find in your home rather than the countryside. The yellow-necked mouse mainly lives in deciduous woodland but can be a regular visitor to houses in rural areas. It's recognisable by a collar of yellow fur around its neck. And finally the house mouse, so-named because it usually lives in proximity to humans. These vary in colour from light brown to black with a body length of 7-10cm, and are the most numerous of mouse species.

Places to visit:

Top nature reserves to visit for wild flower meadows:

- Greystones Farm Nature Reserve, Bourton-on-the-water

- Coombe Hill Meadows, Severn Vale

- Clarke's Pool Meadows, Blakeney, Forest of Dean

- Elliot Nature Reserve, Slad Valley

My Favourite Place - the Frampton on Severn area


Karen Lloyd, Severn Vale Living Landscape officer


Although I'm not a native of this county, I have lived here longer than anywhere else, for more than twenty years now. Even after all this time I am constantly amazed by the variety and beauty of the Gloucestershire landscape, with its rolling hills, steep scarps, forests, woodlands, lakes, vales and orchards.

I felt an affinity with the peaceful tranquillity of the land around the Gloucester-Sharpness Canal and River Severn even before I came to work specifically with this area as part of my job. Behind the broad sweep of the Arlingham bend lies a part of Gloucestershire reminiscent of quieter times.

Upper Framilode, Saul and Frampton on Severn are surrounded by old orchards and large, species-rich hedgerows that support birds, butterflies and mammals. There is a delightful watery network comprising of the River Frome, fragmented canals and wide ditches bordered by beautifully pollarded willows where we have found evidence of the elusive otter and water vole.

Out towards Arlingham, around dawn and dusk, with a little patience you are almost guaranteed to see brown hare in the early spring. In the winter, if you peep through the hedgerow on the River Severn side of the Gloucester-Sharpness canal, you may see flocks of curlew feeding on Saul Warth - last winter I counted twenty two, all using their curved bills to probe for insects in the wet soil.

In the villages the old red brick houses are interspersed with thatched cottages, timber framed buildings and modern housing. These are 'living' villages with schools, shops and a real sense of community.

Frampton has what is reputed to be the longest village green in England and I've spent several summer afternoons watching the cricket here with my husband (pint in hand!). The ponds on the Green are also worth a look as they are rich in plant life and invertebrates. This summer we counted in excess of sixteen plant species. And then if you follow the road round and walk over Splatt Bridge you step from gentle, rural village scenery into a parallel universe of wild, flat saltmarsh in a matter of twenty metres. What wonderful diversity. It's stunning, particularly at sunset.

The red fox belongs to the same family as the wolf, jackal and domestic dog. It can be found all over Britain and is probably the most successful land mammal in the northern hemisphere.

Foxes have adapted particularly well to urban environments, moving into large cities after World War I when suburban Britain, with its network of gardens stretching from the edge of the countryside, really got going. Although urban foxes are known for scavenging refuse their naturally wild instincts are still finely tuned, pouncing on mice in the rough grass of railway embankments and industrial estates, hunting for worms on lawns and playing fields, feeding their cubs on a regular supply of woodland birds, squirrels, rats and the odd urban rabbit.

Right now it's the middle of the breeding season and you may find a garden location has been chosen for an underground 'den' where a vixen will be rearing her cubs - a favourite place is under the garden shed. If you find one please do not disturb it as the vixen will only be there until her cubs are weaned, usually in August.

Foxes can be a great benefit in the garden, feeding on rats, mice and feral pigeons. Most encounters with other large animals such as cats generally result in the two animals ignoring each other or the cat coming off best.

Hedgehogs

With its spiky coat, long nose and endearing little face the hedgehog is one of the most easily recognised of British mammals. But did you know that they're very agile climbers, capable of scaling high walls which they get down from by rolling into ball and dropping down to the other side?

They can also squeeze through extremely small holes, so if you'd like to encourage them into your garden but think your wall is too high, why not cut a small hole at ground level? It will become quite a thoroughfare for all manner of small creatures.

Young hedgehogs will soon be leaving their mothers and in the early autumn will seek a winter nest. They often choose garden sites and will gather dry vegetation in a quiet corner where they're not likely to be disturbed such as under a hedge, beneath a shed, in a compost heap or even a garage!

Gardeners should love hedgehogs as their favourite snack is fresh slugs. You can encourage them by putting out food and water throughout the year, especially in dry summers when grubs and worms are difficult to find. They like to eat minced meat, fresh liver, dog or cat food (not fish based) or even scrambled eggs. Don't give bread and milk as it will upset their digestion - clean fresh water is better, given in a shallow bowl.

Slug pellets are a great threat to hedgehogs, so try using beer traps or sprinkling fine sand around the plants you want to protect (though with hedgehogs in your garden your slug population should be under control anyway). Ponds are another hazard, though a couple of bricks or a wire net will help hedgehogs get out if they fall in.



DID YOU KNOW - a hedgehog can walk two miles during a night searching for food and an over-excited hedgehog can run at a top speed of 6 mph - but only in short bursts!


Wildlife on your doorstep - Wild Flowers

At this time of year Gloucestershire's hedgerows, road verges and meadows are alive with scent and colour due to the abundance and variation of wild flowers we're blessed with.

In the Cotswolds the grasslands are predominantly on limestone. The soils are thin and nutrient poor, so this means lots of different wildflower species may be found in a small area. Good examples are the commons around Stroud and nature reserves such as Elliott (Swifts Hill). Take a close look at these grasslands and you can expect to see such little gems as purple milk vetch, pyramidal orchid and the wonderfully named fairy flax.

In the Severn Vale and outside the central Forest of Dean, richer soils tend to be deeper and more naturally nutrient rich, so the wildflowers found here might include the elusive green winged orchid, greater burnet and the reptilian adders tongue fern. In the central Dean the soil is much more acidic, so it supports a distinct but limited range of species including the dainty heath bedstraw, tormentil or even lousewort.

If you can't get out into the meadows, just cast your eye over the local road verges as you travel around to see cowslip and primrose nestling beneath the swaying heads of cow parsley. White oxeye daisy and the purple flowers of the knapweed can even be seen on the sides of main roads and motorways.

Whilst each type of grassland faces its own particular threats there are some which are universal. Grasslands were once found in large swathes across the countryside, but these have become increasingly fragmented as substantial areas were lost to cultivation. As a result, remaining grassland areas are too isolated for species to spread from one to another.

In Gloucestershire there are a number of initiatives which aim to help protect and manage these special sites. The Wildlife Trust owns and manages many wildflower meadows and grasslands and works closely with landowners to help them manage their sites appropriately.

For now, as well as appreciating the cultivated flowers in your garden, take a closer look and enjoy what is blooming in the countryside as well.

Uncommonly common - MICE

Mice generally elicit two types of reactions. They either send people scurrying to stand on the nearest chair, or reduce them to the type of cooing more commonly saved for small children.

In Gloucestershire there are five types of mice that are integral to our unique mix of wildlife:

Harvest mouse

This is Britain's smallest rodent, weighing less than a two-pence piece. Harvest mice are famous for being the only 'old world' mammal to have a truly prehensile tail, which means they use it to help them climb, wrapping it around stalks of wheat for stability.

Harvest mice like dense vegetation and tend to live in hedgerows and reed beds. They are at their most energetic at dusk. Unlike the dormouse, they do not hibernate but tend to build a winter nest and sleep for long periods, waking during milder spells to eat. Many harvest mice die of the cold in particularly hard winters.



Harvest mouse facts


Size - 5-6 cm in length (not including tail)


Colour - reddish-brown fur with white underparts


Distinguishing features - naked, prehensile tail


Diet - mainly seeds and insects


Wood mouse

One of the most common mammals in Europe, the wood mouse lives in woodland, grassland, hedgerows and gardens - so it's the one you're most likely to see in your own back yard, but not to be confused with the house mouse.

They are agile climbers and are most active at night. They nest below ground, often sharing a nest with up to three other wood mice, in complicated burrow systems which are used by consecutive generations. Occasionally they'll nest above the ground in trees.

Wood mice can be a bit of a pest for gardeners, as they enjoy snacking on bulbs, beans, peas and tomatoes. However they are themselves a favourite snack for predators such as foxes, weasels, owls and domestic cats.

Wood mice are not endangered, but are very important as a source of food for carnivores and birds of prey.



Wood mouse facts


Size - 8-10 cm in length


Colour - dark brown fur, silver grey below


Distinguishing features - large ears and protruding eyes


Diet - seeds, buds, fruits, insects, worms, snails and fungi


The dormouse


Immortalised for sleeping in a teapot in Lewis Carol's 'Alice in Wonderland', the dormouse is perhaps one of the UKs most distinctive and rare mammals. They are found mainly in woodland where there are lots of different types of trees and shrubs, though they can also be found in hedgerows and coniferous plantations.



Dormice travel via tree branches and rarely come down to ground level except to hibernate. They spend their days in a tree hollow or nest made from stripped honeysuckle bark and leaves, and venture out in the evenings to feed in the canopy.



The dormouse's reputation for being sleepy is well deserved as it spends up to six months of the year asleep. They hibernate in ground nests, rolled up in tight balls to conserve every last bit of energy until spring.



Dormouse facts


Size - 7cm in length (not including the tail)


Colour - sandy


Distinguishing features - bushy tail and prominent black eyes


Diet - primarily flowers, fruits and insects


Talents - their hind feet can turn backwards enabling them to hang upside down to feed


The two remaining types of mouse are the ones you're most likely to find in your home rather than the countryside. The yellow-necked mouse mainly lives in deciduous woodland but can be a regular visitor to houses in rural areas. It's recognisable by a collar of yellow fur around its neck. And finally the house mouse, so-named because it usually lives in proximity to humans. These vary in colour from light brown to black with a body length of 7-10cm, and are the most numerous of mouse species.

Places to visit:

Top nature reserves to visit for wild flower meadows:

- Greystones Farm Nature Reserve, Bourton-on-the-water

- Coombe Hill Meadows, Severn Vale

- Clarke's Pool Meadows, Blakeney, Forest of Dean

- Elliot Nature Reserve, Slad Valley

My Favourite Place - the Frampton on Severn area


Karen Lloyd, Severn Vale Living Landscape officer


Although I'm not a native of this county, I have lived here longer than anywhere else, for more than twenty years now. Even after all this time I am constantly amazed by the variety and beauty of the Gloucestershire landscape, with its rolling hills, steep scarps, forests, woodlands, lakes, vales and orchards.

I felt an affinity with the peaceful tranquillity of the land around the Gloucester-Sharpness Canal and River Severn even before I came to work specifically with this area as part of my job. Behind the broad sweep of the Arlingham bend lies a part of Gloucestershire reminiscent of quieter times.

Upper Framilode, Saul and Frampton on Severn are surrounded by old orchards and large, species-rich hedgerows that support birds, butterflies and mammals. There is a delightful watery network comprising of the River Frome, fragmented canals and wide ditches bordered by beautifully pollarded willows where we have found evidence of the elusive otter and water vole.

Out towards Arlingham, around dawn and dusk, with a little patience you are almost guaranteed to see brown hare in the early spring. In the winter, if you peep through the hedgerow on the River Severn side of the Gloucester-Sharpness canal, you may see flocks of curlew feeding on Saul Warth - last winter I counted twenty two, all using their curved bills to probe for insects in the wet soil.

In the villages the old red brick houses are interspersed with thatched cottages, timber framed buildings and modern housing. These are 'living' villages with schools, shops and a real sense of community.

Frampton has what is reputed to be the longest village green in England and I've spent several summer afternoons watching the cricket here with my husband (pint in hand!). The ponds on the Green are also worth a look as they are rich in plant life and invertebrates. This summer we counted in excess of sixteen plant species. And then if you follow the road round and walk over Splatt Bridge you step from gentle, rural village scenery into a parallel universe of wild, flat saltmarsh in a matter of twenty metres. What wonderful diversity. It's stunning, particularly at sunset.


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