Foot­print tun­nel keeps track of gar­den vis­i­tors

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

MAM­MALS play a vi­tal role in main­tain­ing a bal­anced ecosys­tem in the Bri­tish Isles, as keystone preda­tor and prey species, in­di­ca­tors of habi­tat qual­ity and di­ver­sity, and as shapers of our en­vi­ron­ment.

Small mam­mals sus­tain our rare car­ni­vores and birds of prey, and bats con­trol in­sect num­bers.

Rab­bits and deer are im­por­tant graz­ers in grass­land and for­est. The ot­ter and wa­ter vole in­di­cate ex­cel­lent wa­ter qual­ity in our rivers. And thriv­ing har­vest mouse and hedge­hog pop­u­la­tions rep­re­sent di­verse, con­nected land­scapes. That’s how it should all pan-out, but the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment in the Bri­tish Isles faces a num­ber of mod­ern chal­lenges, and mam­mals in par­tic­u­lar have sev­eral. For ex­am­ple:

of habi­tat through land use change, devel­op­ment and agri­cul­tural in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion af­fects hares, har­vest mice and hedge­hogs.

species bring­ing risk of com­pe­ti­tion, hy­bridi­s­a­tion and dis­ease to na­tive mam­mals, par­tic­u­larly for wa­ter voles, red deer and red squirrels.

with hu­mans in­clud­ing road col­li­sions, dam­age to hous­ing, forestry and agri­cul­ture, and ur­ban­i­sa­tion of species like the fox.

and re­search gaps that limit our un­der­stand­ing and abil­ity to iden­tify and help vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions.

Be­cause of their elu­sive na­ture, find­ing and record­ing mam­mals is dif­fi­cult, re­sult­ing in patchy, un­re­li­able and out-of-date dis­tri­bu­tion records. We don’t know in enough de­tail how well they’re do­ing, where key pop­u­la­tions ex­ist and whether they are thriv­ing.

With­out this in­for­ma­tion, pop­u­la­tion changes and de­clines can­not eas­ily be iden­ti­fied, im­por­tant species move­ments and in­ter­ac­tions can­not be mon­i­tored and as such we can­not re­li­ably ad­vo­cate ef­fec­tive con­ser­va­tion ef­forts.

The Mam­mal So­ci­ety is work­ing to col­lect and share in­for­ma­tion on mam­mals to get a clearer pic­ture of mam­mal dis­tri­bu­tion, abun­dance and pop­u­la­tion changes over time, and from that a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of how mam­mals are be­ing af­fected by the chal­lenges they face.

From on­go­ing mon­i­tor­ing sur­veys, train­ing and events to shar­ing knowl­edge and the re­sults of new re­search.

Cut off from the con­ti­nent around 8,000 years ago, as the ice re­treated and re-opened the North Sea and English Chan­nel, our na­tive mam­mal fauna was fixed. Since then a num­ber of in­tro­duc­tions have taken place, such that to­day we have:

na­tive ter­res­trial mam­mals, two na­tive marine mam­mals. na­tive bats. in­tro­duced or nat­u­ralised species.

ter­res­trial is­land mam­mals.

cetaceans found in and around our wa­ters.

va­grant mam­mals: four bat species and five seals – found only oc­ca­sion­ally.

feral species and two do­mes­ti­cated / man­aged species.

For read­ers in­ter­ested in get­ting in­volved here’s how.

The Mam­mal So­ci­ety runs sur­veys and on­go­ing mon­i­tor­ing projects, and this can be as sim­ple as record­ing the fox or bad­ger which vis­its your gar­den and sub­mit­ting it.

Sur­veys col­lect sta­tis­ti­cal, de­tailed in­for­ma­tion on mam­mals, while mon­i­tor­ing projects col­lect vi­tal dis­tri­bu­tion records and can iden­tify pop­u­la­tion change.

Both the records from the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity and gen­eral public alike feed into The Na­tional Mam­mal At­las Project – NMAP –which aims to pro­duce a re­cent base­line of mam­mal dis­tri­bu­tion data.

The new kid on the block when it comes to data col­lec­tion, is the foot­print tun­nel, a non-in­va­sive tool to look for the pres­ence of mam­mals in a habi­tat by iden­ti­fy­ing their foot­prints.

Imag­ine a cloche-like struc­ture and you’re nearly there. Mam­mals walk over ink pads to reach bait in­side, and leave foot­prints on spe­cial pa­per as they do so.

The Laugh­ing Bad­ger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Pad­field, Glossop

l● A wa­ter vole munches on veg­e­ta­tion by the river­side

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