The Mammals of Rushcliffe
Recorder: Michael Walker. Send your records to Mr Michael Walker
c/o Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust
Old Ragged School
Many of our mammals are seen very rarely, perhaps by chance, or only by making a special effort. Apart from rabbits, hares and the occasional fox which might be seen on a general ramble, the other species remain mostly elusive and the observations perhaps brief and frustrating.
With the exception of the bats, all our species are pretty much widespread, in suitable habitat, throughout the borough (unless otherwise stated).
The Wildlife Trust has put together an online atlas of Nottinghamshire mammals which in most cases shows how few mammal records are submitted and should drive us all to send them in no matter how common we think the species is.
Hedgehog A familiar road casualty and occasional (or regular) garden visitor, though seemingly much declined. My personal feeling is that they have recovered from a marked population dip locally but are not back to their pre 1990 numbers. In mild British winters, hedgehogs don't need to hibernate and it is usually best to leave hedgehogs that are active in the winter even if they are lightweight and frosts are prevalent or forecast - they are able to look after themselves very well thank you.
Mole Molehills are usually the only indication of the presence of moles and despite their abundance, seeing a live one is a rare experience. Just once in my lifetime of nature watching, I saw two moles rapidly scurrying through a sedge bed in broad daylight one day in May.
Common Shrew Only ever seen dead or heard (apart from an occasional glimpse). The dead ones have simply run out of steam after a short life of high-rate metabolism. They make high-pitched squeaking noises during courtship behaviour in spring, but now that I think about it I may have lost the capacity to detect the high frequency, along with that of bats and some grasshoppers and crickets.
Pygmy Shrew Based on the dead shrews I come across, the Pygmy Shrew seems to be scarcer than the Common one, but otherwise the same information applies. Trapping shrews in small mammal traps requires a special licence and training because leaving them in a trap for even a short time without specially provided food will kill them within an hour.
Water Shrew Recorded from about 6 tetrads in Rushcliffe but a targeted survey along the R Erewash revealed them to be widespread so it is likely that they are under-recorded. I found one south of Keyworth, 100 metres from the nearest pond, under a corrugated steel sheet in May 2014 (I was looking for reptiles). I had only ever seen one before - in a village-green pond in Essex in about 1972. Descriptions of a swimming mammal from a garden pond at Sutton cum Granby are of this species.
The bats are a specialist group of creatures, all of which are protected and require special licence for their study beyond casual observation. Electronic bat detectors have aided our knowledge of their distribution but they are not a perfect tool. My knowledge of them is scant and I hope that an expert will expand on these brief and imperfect notes in due course. There is much more information and distribution maps on the Nottinghamshire Bat Group website
Brown Long-eared Bat Widely distributed in Rushcliffe and the second commonest species. Given pre-darkness views, their extraordinarily long ears enable identification but they are hard to detect by bat detectors.
Nathusius' Pipistrelle First recorded just across the river at Attenborough (probably from a roost at Long Eaton). This recent addition to the British list has now been recorded from at least one site in Rushcliffe.
Common Pipistrelle Our commonest bat (indeed the only species that could be considered common). Often seen around dusk throughout and faithful to particular feeding sites over many decades. A small species with a distinctive fluttery flight with lots of direction changes.
Soprano Pipistrelle A closely related species only recently separated. It emits sonar at a higher frequency and although apparently as frequent at the Common Pipistrelle, it can only be distinguished with a bat detector.
Leisler's Bat Present in Notts mainly in the forest country and along the Trent, but there are a couple of records from the south of Rushcliffe, the most recent near Stanford.
Noctule Bat Scattered distribution but one of the more likely species to be seen over meadows and often flies well before darkness sets in. This is a large species with a distinctive flight that can aid its identification. It has been recorded from more than a dozen tetrads in Rushcliffe.
Natterer's Bat Recorded widely throughout Nottinghamshire but very scarce. Records from around Bunny and Colston Basset.
Whiskered Bat Widespread but not common. Brandt's Bat is so similar as to be inseparable in the field but has been recorded in Notts. NBG atlas shows records from around Stanford on Soar and Colston Basset.
Daubenton's Bat Recorded from Rushcliffe CP lake and around Stanford/Normanton on Soar and Colston Basset but no known roosts in the Borough. Often hunts over water bodies.
Rabbit Widespread and common but best observed at dusk and dawn.
Brown Hare Widespread and fairly common. My experience suggests their numbers were at a very low ebb in the 1990's but I now see them frequently in the borough.
Grey Squirrel Widespread and common throughout where trees are present. Often in gardens but some seemingly suitable sites are not favoured.
(Hazel Dormouse) Occurs (or has occurred) at only one site in Notts and is not present in Rushcliffe
Bank Vole This and the next species are widespread and common in all non-urban habitats throughout the borough. Bank Voles prefer deciduous woodland and hedgebanks where there is cover such as brambles.
Field Vole Often glimpsed under sheets of corrugated iron or roofing felt put out for reptiles and a species of open ungrazed meadow or other grassland but also found in dry reed beds. The staple diet of Barn Owls.
The table below shows the percentage of small mammals found in Barn Owl pellets collected from 37 locations across Rushcliffe during 2015. A total of 646 small mammals were identified.
|Field Vole||Common Shrew||Wood Mouse||Bank Vole||Pygmy Shrew||Water Shrew||Harvest Mouse||Brown Rat||House Mouse||Mole|
Water Vole Once common on every brook, stream, lake and canal in England. There are still some at Lady Bay and others may survive but in vastly reduced numbers on the Grantham Canal. Present sporadically at Keyworth Meadow until about 2000. Thought to be predated by Mink.
Harvest Mouse As with other small mammals, the numbers of Harvest Mice fluctuate markedly. The used breeding nests have been found at Bingham Linear Park, Keyworth Meadow, Wilwell farm Cutting, Silver Seal mine entrance, Fairham Brook reserve (at Clifton) and scattered throughout the Wolds. The nests are typically found among rank grass growing up into bramble (which provides support) but also in Phragmites on Bunny Moor. Present at sites in some years but apparently quite absent in others. Live trapping in reed beds at Skylarks has shown them to be present in small numbers even through the winter contrary to most reports that state that they abandon their climbing behaviour at this time. This was first postulated by Gilbert White in the 18th century.
Wood Mouse The most common mouse by far and found in all habitats including urban gardens where it is the most likely mouse to get into outhouses, greenhouses and sheds where its gnawing and nest building cause damage.
(Yellow-necked Mouse) Does not occur in Nottinghamshire
House Mouse The numbers of House Mice appear to be much reduced in the last half century as farms have become much tidier with grain secured from their attention. They are rarely found away from human habitation and don't do well in rural locations.
Brown Rat Very numerous and common throughout the Borough. Abundant along watercourses and swims well so could be confused with Water Vole. Not especially associated with sewers but enters them when they are in poor condition. aka Norway Rat.
(Black Rat) Thought to once have been the vector of the black death, the species is almost extinct in Britain and no longer occurs in Nottinghamshire. aka Ship Rat.
Fox Widespread and common in both rural and urban habitats.
Stoat Widespread but rarely seen. On the basis of sightings, somewhat scarcer than Weasel.
Weasel Widespread but also rarely seen. Occasionally provides prolonged entertaining views and if the observer stays still, Weasels seem not to notice and hunt unconcerned within a few feet of the watcher.
Polecat Disappeared from the Notts countryside when gamekeepers destroyed them. Now slowly returning from its stronghold in central Wales and in July 2019, a female was found dead on Stanton on the Wolds Golf Course. It was very kindly reported to me and I examined the fresh corpse (which had no indication of the cause of death) and its identity was confirmed by Michael Walker, the county mammal recorder.
American Mink Well established in Rushcliffe now following their release from fur farms by animal welfare activists. A massive pest of our native wildlife especially the Water Vole but also of nesting birds. Common but secretive along watercourses and seemingly here for good, the only sign of a reprieve is the return of the Otter which seems to oust Mink.
Badger Increasingly common. Long-established setts are widespread with outliers popping up all over Rushcliffe. Many road casualties may be supplemented by landowners controlling the population.
Otter Due to hunting, persecution, pesticides and pollution, the Otter was virtually confined to north-west Scotland, but with improvements all round, it has returned and is consolidating its presence. Found along the R. Trent and its gravel pits and many other watercourses where there is sufficient fish and suitable habitat but as with all mammals, the Otter is secretive and notoriously hard to observe directly.
Nick Sparrow is one of a privileged few who have seen Otters in Nottinghamshire and he has these 10 tips for aspiring Otter spotters.
- If you go out looking for otters, you will almost certainly suffer a lifetime of disappointments.
- Instead, go out alone looking for habitats of all kinds and enjoy them.
- In a habitat, stand or sit. Look around. Look again. Keep looking and listening. Until your senses come to life.
- Most insects, birds and mammals will already see you before you see them. So 'hide in plain sight' and they may come to see what you are doing. Even land on you (goldfinch and robin so far, and struck on the head by a female sparrowhawk's talon which drew blood, now I always wear a hat).
- When I watched an otter come along, I was already standing quite still, in plain sight, on a bridge wearing a white cycle helmet. Maybe he assumed I was a lamp post.
- Contrarywise, the best way to see a nightingale is to walk past his bushes in plain sight while talking loudly. It is impossible to sneak up on a nightingale or otter.
- Even looking hard at a place where an otter is moving, you may not see it. An otter keeps low to the ground or water to avoid startling fish. And is well camouflaged in flickering light by waterside vegetation. An otter 'flows' along, rather than lolloping about.
- Take some biscuits.
- Don't mess about with your camera.
- Allow 50 years for your otter quest and join a conservation group.
Roe Deer Now widespread in Rushcliffe. Roe Deer are smaller than perhaps one expects and able to hide up during the day in dense cover and wander the fields at night. Some are becoming surprisingly bold and in undisturbed arable fields they can be seen during the day-time in open countryside.
Fallow Deer are extant in Notts north of the Trent at Sherwood Pines, Clumber and around Annesley (and of course in captivity at Wollaton Park) but not in Rushcliffe to my knowledge.
Muntjac This non-native species is well established and increasingly seen. I have seen it in Keyworth Meadow, Rancliffe Wood, Cotgrave Forest and Thorpe in the Glebe but its bark is a more frequent indicator of its presence and slots, the foot imprint in soft mud, can be found throughout the winter woodlands; deciding whether they belong to Muntjac or Roe Deer is another matter.