Estate helping in fight to save Britain’s smallest rodent
It’s native to the whole of the country from Yorkshire down, but it is now generally considered to be rare. Its conservation status reflects that fact that numbers have been in steep decline – they fell 71% in one 18-year period – and also that it is vulnerable to habitat loss. Field margins, wet habitats and hedgerows are noted as particularly important to its survival.
Clinton Devon Estates are now working with the Devon Mammal Group to train volunteers to survey for harvest mice.
Kate Ponting, Countryside Learning Officer, explains: “We’ll be running a training day which will include a presentation at the Estate Office looking into the background to the project, methodology and surveying techniques, which will be followed by field visits to local farmland and heath.
“The volunteers are likely to feed data into the Devon Harvest Mouse Project and will also provide useful knowledge on the Estates’ biodiversity.
“I went out with Pete Cooper who is the Devon Mammal Group’s Harvest Mouse Project Officer, and we looked for nests at areas of rough grass on the heaths and farmland in the Otter Valley. Initially we were unsuccessful, but knowing that Stantyway Farm at Otterton has some good field margins and rough grass we then headed there and after a couple of minutes found a nest.
“We ran a BioBlitz at Stantyway in 2016, and found more than 800 different species of animals and plants living there, although interestingly the harvest mouse wasn’t among them, so this is a really interesting start!
“Understanding where species are present is a very important part of any conservation project. Harvest mice make nests from grass, above the ground, and in the summer months these are extremely hard to find, being so well camouflaged. But in winter they’re much easier to spot, and of course give a good idea of whether mice are occupying any given area.”
The training day will be held on Friday, January 19. To learn more about the Harvest Mouse Project, please go to the Devon Mammal Group website.
- The harvest mouse’s Latin name, Micromys minutus, means small, small rodent.
- It is just 6cm long, with a tail about the same length.
- It is the only British mammal with a truly prehensile tail which it can use like another limb.
- It has golden brown fur with a white belly, with relatively small eyes and ears.
- Harvest mice are mostly vegetarian, but it is rare that they noticeably damage cereal crops.