Friday, 27 September 2013

Winding Down, with Adders

Above, droppings, and below, very clear water vole prints.

I've been to the brook several times this last week and seen nothing, though the voles are definitely around - there are as many prints and droppings as ever. I know from past years this is a usual pattern, though, and sightings-wise, I probably won't get much now till next spring.

Still, it's been a cracking year for wildlife here, with good numbers of water vole signs around the usual sites, plenty of hedgehogs, and for the first time in my life I've seen slow worms and adders. The slow worms were in Ravenscar, but the adders were over in Staffordshire, just over the border. I had a guide with me as I wouldn't have known where to look, and he showed me and my son the right spots where snakes like to bask. We were privileged to find two individual females, plus several common lizards including this dark juvenile (apparently young common lizards are nearly black).

Also saw my first holly blue butterfly, my first drinker moth, my first sexton beetle and my first tiger beetle. None of these is rare, but it's nice when you get a personal first.

Friday, 20 September 2013


The person who took this video has now made her garden fence hedgehog-accessible, and her hedgehogs are very happy.

As well as monitoring water voles, this year I've been keeping tabs on my garden hedgehogs. I thought I'd mark them to see if I could work out how many individuals I had using the lawn as their territory, and I did this by painting the spines carefully with white Humbrol enamel paint (it must not touch the skin though).

Since May I've had at least seventeen individuals coming and going to take the cat biscuits I put out each night, though some only made a brief appearance. No babies or juveniles either, despite several courting pairs. I've seen fighting hedgehogs too. The camera I use is a Bushnell, tied to a Fladen umbrella spike that I can push into the ground.

Excitingly, someone else in the road must also be marking hedgehogs because there are definitely hogs with patterns I've not painted who turn up from time to time.

I've logged the sightings myself, but I've also sent them in to, an outfit who are trying to get a picture of how the species is doing nationally. Thousands of other people across the country have also sent results in. 

If you see a hedgehog out during the day, it's almost certainly in trouble, so quickly get advice from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society on 01584 890801 or from St Tiggywinkles on 01844 292292. Don't delay. And if you're in the North Shrops/South Cheshire area and you have a car, you can take injured hogs to Stapeley Grange Wildlife rescue, London Road, Nantwich CW5 7JW, tel: 0870 4427102.

Finally, many thanks to the Shropshire Star for posting a feature on my hedgehogs this week:

Saturday, 14 September 2013

It's All About Me

 Droppings in the bottom right corner

A bit of own-trumpet-blowing now: I'm thrilled to say I've won the Bizmums Environmental Mum of the Year Award. I can't tell you what a boost this is, especially after last week's strimming issues. Took myself down to the brook to tell the voles - and I'm aware I'm sounding like Urk from Cold Comfort Farm - and was pleased to see lots of latrines all the way along, even at the pallet end which is quite shady and not ideal habitat. Then this vole appeared and swam about happily.

Next week's task will be to send a letter to Gladman consultants about the development proposed off Tilstock Road. Yes, we need new houses, and yes, it's a sensible site, but the planners and builders will have to follow the rules so that the voles on Mossfields (the back of Saddlers Walk) are protected and the law isn't broken.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Boo to the Environment Agency

Depressingly, the damage to the banks by over-zealous strimming turns out to have gone right through the town, so that's all along Waylands Road, along Edward German Drive, out on the other side through Greenfields Rise and only stopping when they reached the nature reserve. And the work's been carried out by the Environment Agency! An organisation I've spoken to countless times about water vole presence in the town, and who should have it flagged up in their systems that this stream needs especially sensitive management. They must have remembered something about the voles because of the way that one short stretch by White Lion Meadow has been managed. 

I appreciate they've stuck to the rule about only removing cover from one bank at a time, but for most of the brook between the railway bridge and White Lion Meadow there is only one bank that's vole-friendly. The rest is either flanked by a brick wall or wooden revetment, or the bank is too shaded by overhanging trees for anything to grow there. The result is no cover at all for the water voles who live along this stretch.

And this in a week when we're told that water vole numbers nationally are down by a fifth. Honestly, I could weep.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Good Practice, Bad Practice

 White Lion Meadow strimming - good practice as only alternative banks have been cut and only in short stretches

 White Lion Meadow vole presence

 Waylands Road strimming - very poor practice as the entire stretch has been done from the railway bridge down to Waylands Close, leaving the water voles there with no food or cover.

 Black Park Road - nothing touched, water vole bliss.

 Water vole feeding at Black Park Road.

 Otter spraint at Black Park Road.

Two juvenile Edgeley Road water voles

To our dismay, the banks along the Staggsbrook by Waylands Road have been stripped of cover and we're trying to find out who's done it so it won't happen again. In the same week, the banks at White Lion Meadow have been tidied in an exemplary fashion, so whoever's responsible for this deserves a pat on the back. Here are some ideas for landowners and councils on the right way to strim vegetation back in areas where water voles are present:

Update - see above. It's the Environment Agency who are responsible, and there turns out to be a lot more of it! Many thanks to Shropshire Council for helping me track down who did it.

Meanwhile I'm happy to report that the Black Park voles and the ones by the railway bridge at Homebase - on the Railway Cottage side of the road - are doing well, going by the number of feeding signs and latrines.

Monday, 2 September 2013

When your food bites back

 This young adult is still fairly bold.

 This vole had to make a hasty exit when a rival shot out from upstream and flung itself into the water.

Pygmy shrew, I think, because tail length is about 70% that of the body. Common shrews' tails are shorter, about 50%.

I had to share with you Richard Steel's gorgeous video of a young water vole trying to eat a nettle: Towards the end of the clip, you can see there seems to be a bit of an issue with stinging. Nevertheless, the vole carries on!