Solving the Enigma of The Obvious Rabbit – Chapter 1

Life wasn’t easy growing up in a caravan of kits, with five jills and six jacks. Anyone would have said that we weren’t actually all brothers and sisters, from the way we treated each other. I don’t honestly think I had one single good sleep in the entire first three months of my life, when I wisely decided to leave the den. If it wasn’t my mother picking me up by the scruff and dragging me to another home every week, it was one of my siblings challenging me to mortal war.

Not a day would go by in my youth where I wasn’t challenged, or had to challenge one from the caravan to a bit of ruff and tumble. If it wasn’t one of them sneaking up behind me and pouncing on me, it would be big John charging into me at full pace, sending us both rolling like a wagon wheel. By the time I was two months old, this piece of toast never fell face down. Each of my huge family and I, had mastered the art of battle.

All of this squabbling and fighting would work up an unbelievable appetite. Luckily, mum was an absolute demon at hunting, because at home she had all of our screaming mouths to feed. Almost every day she would bring back a nice juicy meal that she had snapped up on her travels. Nothing could beat a big old floppy eared rabbit. I can still remember seeing her bounding over the horizon with a big old thumper in her jaws, tripping over him all the way, because he was ten times her size. To this day I still wonder how on earth she could carry them so far.

As I would dive into this crazy little banquet, I would dream to myself that one day I would have one of these huge treats to myself. The need to fight off my brothers just to get a bite to eat was starting to get tiresome. On top of that, we were all getting big and mum was starting to tire from finding enough meat for us all to eat. The day was coming, I realised, where I have to leave this hole and learn how to catch my own rabbits.

One day, at three months old, mum was out, and me and the gang were up to the usual. I was taking it in turns at somersaulting and spinning onto any brother or sister I was near. At some point, I stopped for a breather and began to wonder what was taking mum so long to come back home. I was starving and becoming impatient for my next meal. Standing on my hind legs, I had a peer over the horizon, pivoting in a full circle to see if I could catch a glimpse of her. There was no luck so I tried again, stretching as tall
as I could, to get a good eyeful of everything around me. On my second go round, as I had almost completed a full circle I saw something that caught my gaze. “Could it be her?” I thought, “or is it…..?”

Interview: Adam L. Canning

A short introduction

Adam L. Canning is a reasonably young wildlife filmmaker and tv presenter, from the southern fringes of Birmingham, who has wanted to share his passion and love for the natural world since he was sixteen years old, by making and fronting natural history productions. He recently co-produced and co-presented a TV series called The Wild Side, showcasing the wildlife and its conservation in and around Cambridgeshire (broadcast on Cambridge TV), featuring women who volunteer and also work in that sector. Adam is now twenty-seven years young and dreams of working with the BBC’s Natural History Unit. 

What are your earliest memories of your passion for nature?

This is an honest answer to anybody who asks me this question;
I have loved nature since I was a baby – since I could see, crawl, begin to talk and walk. I’m unsure which of the latter two came first, walking or talking, I’ll have to ask my mum, aha!   

My grandmother (on my mother’s side), or ‘Nanny Ó Brien’ as I called her, thoroughly encouraged my love of wildlife, gifting me a wrapped shoebox full of animal figures/toys, on one of my birthdays. This became my ‘shoebox zoo’ and it contained many native British animal toys. She used to take my sisters, cousins and me, all to the Lickey Hills Country Park – made famous by J.R.R. Tolkien and once owned by the Cadbury’s Chocolate family – we would go most half-terms from primary school and explored for a few hours, passing through the heather and bilberries, plus playing in the great expanse of ancient woodland, containing the odd veteran tree, to be climbed of course. Sadly, my beloved nan died of a heart-attack when I was approximately 6 years old. Thankfully, my mum & dad often stopped to point out the natural wonders, whenever we were out and about – especially my dad, during our walks around the Waseley Hills Country Park – birds, fungi, plants, amphibians and mammals – feeding my fascination, pretty much for my entire childhood.

The first weasel I ever saw was up the Waseley Hills, whilst I was still a little boy, it scurried out in front of me, the Waseley’s has a rich variety of habitats and it is my favourite country park. It is these wonderful encounters which stoke the passion, within my soul, for nature. I remember the weasel passing right in front of my shoes! It’s fur catching the sunlight, seeing a bit of its very pale underbelly, I froze in amazement, allowing it to pass by – gracing me with its presence. The reason I recall some animal facts and remember most of these life experiences vividly is because I am on the Autistic Spectrum.

Adam and his sister. Photo by © David Canning-England.

What mammal-related topic has pricked up your ears recently? Can you explain further and whether you think this is relevant to UK mammals and Biodiversity?

Good questions! Well, I’m still excited by the fact that pine martens can be found in Shropshire, which is within the West Midlands region of England! I’m from the West Midlands, so I think you can understand my delight in this fact, yes, it is possible they could have colonised from Wales, but they are English now, aha! Knowing there is a stronghold of these incredible arboreal mustelids, thriving in a pocket of England, is vital for their conservation and of course, in turn, they are increasing the biodiversity of the woodland in which they inhabit, in Shropshire. Personally, my favourite mammal is the only true flying one, Bats!

Photo by Adam L. Canning during a BrumBats Bat survey at Dudley Castle – Dudley, West Midlands. Photos taken under license.

If you had to choose a mammal to film which one would it be? And a person to interview?

This is a tough question to answer… I have just said bats are my favourite species of mammalian… But, my partner Gary and I recently saw a polecat together, so I would choose this mammal to film! It was on a farm in Brownhills, on the border of Walsall and South Staffordshire – this habitat has rabbits and small rodents living within it. It was such a magical encounter, seeing an English European polecat! I instantly knew what it wasn’t, a ‘feral polecat-ferret’, due to its colouration and distinct bandit-band on its face. An elusive, and considerably rare, healthy-looking individual. Again, a mustelid had run out in front of me – but this one stopped! At the time I happened to be rehydrating, aha! I had just gulped some water from a sports bottle – I couldn’t speak, and I didn’t want to spit my water out in excitement, so I made a ‘subdued excited sound’, to get the attention of Gary. Eventually, he looked at what I was making an odd quiet sound at! We both froze and stood staring at this stunning creature – judging by how it didn’t notice us and was stock-still staring into some undergrowth – it was hunting. After a few seconds – which felt like minutes – it scampered off, vanishing into beautifully unkempt edges of the farmland.

Episode 3 of The Wild Side – interviewing Emily Neville about bats! 🦇

Currently, I would love to interview Colin Dann, the author of the enchanting book series The Animals of Farthing Wood, which was adapted into the much-loved animated cartoon series of the same title – shown on the BBC during the early 1990’s. I grew up watching said series, so I have several questions which I’d love to ask Mr Dann.

Birdfair 2011 – Adam reunites Mike Dilger with Bill Oddie & gets a photo.

What advice would you give to a junior wildlife reporter/filmmaker?

Do not be afraid to find your own original path into the industry. Plus, beware of whom you share this masterplan with. We are all in this together, for the same common goal, sharing our passion for the natural world and promoting the conservation of the environment and its wildlife. Thank you.

If you want to find out more about Adam’s work, follow him on:

YouTube: NatureOnScreen

Twitter: @AdamLCanning

Instagram: @AdamLCanning

Website: http://CannedWildlife.wordpress.com

The Wild Side series: https://cannedwildlife.wordpress.com/thewildside/

Facebook: CannedWildlife

Thank you for your time, Adam!

 


Disclaimer: The views expressed by interviewees do not necessarily reflect those of The Mammal Next Door

Interview: Ian White

A short introduction

My degree, many years ago, was in Applied Biology and then I got side-tracked and ran my own business in the retail sector for about 20 years. Then I had a career change – I studied an ecology course at Merrist Wood and became interested in small mammals, specifically hazel dormice, and then I studied for an MSc in Biological Recording.

I had worked with many of the small mammal experts in the UK and was in the right place at the right time when a part-time role of Dormouse Officer was created at PTES and I was lucky enough to get the job. I supplemented the part time role with a teaching job and wrote, and taught, a Foundation degree programme at Merrist Wood. I left the college after a couple of years to work full time at PTES with the role of Dormouse and Training Officer. I remain the only person working full time on dormice in the UK.

Hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius).

What are your earliest memories of your passion for nature?

My mother was Canadian and grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan. When I was a boy, we use to fly to Canada to go to the farm, now run by my Uncle, for about 6 weeks every year. It was a small boy’s dream – the freedom to roam around 600 hectares with my 7 cousins, riding horses, driving tractors and watching beavers. There were at least two lodges on the farm and one year I was determined to get some photographs. So for a week I got up early and went down to the slough and watched two beavers fell and eat a birch tree while I sat about 2m away. Unfortunately, when the film got processed it was all scratched.

What mammal-related topic has pricked up your ears recently?

As I work only on dormice, it is mostly dormouse news that I tend to be aware of. And there have been two exciting things happening for dormice over the past year. One is the work undertaken by PTES to investigate whether dormice will use an arboreal bridge to cross gaps such as roads and railway and the other is some work by students who have had great success identifying the presence of dormice by using footprint tunnels.

Hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius).

Can you explain further and whether you think this is relevant to UK mammals and Biodiversity?

There have been a lot of so-called dormouse bridges put up to help dormice cross roads when part of their living area has been destroyed by developments. Unfortunately, none of these have been shown to work but it has been shown that dormice will cross roads on the ground. What we don’t know, is what dormice, which live in the tree and shrub canopy, would like to do. PTES copied the design of a Japanese dormouse bridge and put it up on our nature reserve on the IoW. Dormice were recorded on it in 9 hours and over the course of a years were recorded on it at least 30 times as opposed to the total of three times they were seen on the ground. PTES is now working with an Ecological Consultancy to build a commercial bridge that we know works. This could be a major step in improving landscape connectivity for dormice.

Dormice are a difficult animal to find and survey for and if there is a reasonable likelihood of finding them then you need a licence, which can take at least two years to get, to make sure you don’t break the law. To survey we usually use either dormouse tubes or dormouse nest boxes and that means that a dormouse needs to be home at the time we check the box for us to say they are definitely present. Footprint tunnels are different – dormouse footprints are quite distinct, they can be checked by people who don’t have a licence, because there is no disturbance, and they show which animals have passed through over the previous three days rather than just giving a snapshot. This technique could be a real advance in trying to find where our dormice are.

Hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius).

What three things could our readers do to help dormice?

Dormice are a wonderful species to work with. They are of conservation concern as the population has dropped by nearly 40% since the year 2000; they are one of our crown jewels of our native fauna; they are good indicators of a healthy countryside, if dormice are present then the habitats will be good for a range of other species; they are cute and people like to see dormice and we should care as they are part of our native wildlife and we have a duty of responsibility to look after it. They are also highly protected and so it can be difficult to work directly with dormice. In the first instance, people can volunteer to work with your local conservation charity to improve habitat in woodlands and hedgerow for dormice. If people would like to work directly with dormice most Counties now have a local dormouse group who may be able to help. Finally, support your local wildlife charity that undertakes dormouse work or support PTES who are the leading conservation charity in the UK working on dormice.

If you want to find out more about hazel dormice, read our 2016 Spring issue and visit PTES website.

Thank you for your time, Ian!

 


Disclaimer: The views expressed by interviewees do not necessarily reflect those of The Mammal Next Door

Interview: Kate Wyatt

A short introduction

I was very lucky to grow up in Dorset and later went away to a lovely school in Somerset where I was surrounded by the beautiful levels with its fantastic wildlife. During my childhood, I was fortunate enough to be one of the last generation of children who were allowed outside to play and so spent many hours with cousins and friends enjoying the countryside and all it offered, this developed into a passion for drawing what I see, for me the reality of fact.

Kate doing observational drawings.

I went to Bournemouth and Poole College of Art to do my Foundation Year and later to Art School in London where I gained a BA (Hons) in Fine Art. Over the past 10 years, I have become known as one of Britain’s most popular wildlife artists with my work held in many collections both in the UK and throughout the world.

What are your earliest memories of your passion for nature?

I have been completely in love with British wildlife in particular from a very early age, ever since my parents introduced me to the hedgerows, woodlands and fields of Dorset where I grew up. We did quite a bit of walking and one walk in particular when I was about six I can mark as my first awakening to the beauty of autumn, the berries and hips and the changing colours of the leaves which in turn began my intense interest in our country’s fabulous wildlife.

My cousin, one of the Pashens of Bincombe, introduced me to a dead baby mole and once again this was a bit of a baptism for me, to learn there were life and death in nature. The mole was so small but also so beautiful. Together with his other friends, all boys, we spent a great deal of time exploring the land around Bincombe and enjoying being outside with no apparent parental guardianship other than to not get under our parent’s feet and be home in time for lunch or tea.

During this developing time, I was put on the back of a small pony by my father and fell deeply and passionately in total adoration for horses which I then began to draw all the time. My parents took me regularly to Dartmoor and Exmoor so that I could sketch the ponies, on one occasion a mare with a foal tried to eat my sketchbook, my Dad chased her away in case she also thought his daughter looked good enough to nibble.

What mammal-related topic has pricked up your ears recently? Can you explain further and whether you think this is relevant to UK mammals and Biodiversity?

One of my passions is for the continuation of the law which banned fox hunting and hare coursing. I don’t think as a conservationist that a civilised country should be allowed to pass laws which allow the terrible agonising destruction of two of our most emblematic and beautiful creatures.

As regards biodiversity in the case of the mountain hare a great deal has been discussed recently, the mountain hare is supposed to carry a parasite which affects the red grouse, but passions on both sides have been fought long and hard for and against the slaughter of many mountain hares recently and the environmental impact of preserving these grouse moors for these shoots is also under discussion. Also, the damage and criminal activity of hare coursing are unbelievable and one issue which many prominent wildlife people have been discussing at great length for some time, the policing of the act is very hard.

If you had to choose a mammal to draw which one would it be?

If I had to draw my favourite animal, this is a very difficult choice, it would still be the brown hare for its beauty, grace, speed and magic, and although I have observed these lovely wild animals on many occasions it is always a fabulous experience when I see them again on our ‘local patch’. So my passion for the brown hare will always be my inspiration for all my wildlife work.

I mainly work with watercolours, but I do also like working with other mediums: coloured pencils, inks, graphite and charcoal to gain a slightly different approach and representation of what I see. For me, there is a challenge of working with a combination of different mediums.

My constant search for capturing the perfect immediate moment in nature in my work, involves long and often muddy walks, sitting very quietly and then patiently waiting.

I use both a ‘scope and binoculars to do my observational drawings. I do take photographs and use my own filming which can help in my final pieces.

I work from life as much as possible outside whatever the weather, though I admit to giving up once my fingers are too frozen to work, or I have got too wet in Britain’s very varied climate. Direct observational work gives me a fantastic insight into the wildlife I am inspired to draw and paint.

We love your book called ‘Bobby the Brown Long-eared Bat‘! Could you tell us a little about the project?

Two years ago I was asked to do the illustrations for ‘Bobby the brown long-eared bat’, written by Angela Mills, which is a gentle story of Bobby’s exploration of his world outside the bat nursery, we were very fortunate to have Chris Packham to write the foreword and have the Bat Conservation Trust endorse the book. Purchasing this book contributes to bat conservation and 10% of the net proceeds will be donated to the Bat Conservation Trust.

At the moment I am working on another children’s book, based on a family of tiny water shrews that popped into my head one day when I was completing a deadline of hare paintings for my former agents. I am still tweaking the illustrations but hope to finish them now as I am racing the Spring and just about ahead of the month of May, their adventures are set in the spring after all. So everything else has taken a back seat whilst I get these illustrations completed. So despite commissions, galleries and all other demands I must finish my book this year.

If you want to see more illustrations, visit Kate’s website www.katewyattartist.co.uk

Thank you for your time, Kate!


Disclaimer: The views expressed by interviewees do not necessarily reflect those of The Mammal Next Door

Interview: Nick McKeown

A short introduction

I am a keen amateur photographer who is lucky enough to live in the Scottish Highlands on the west coast. As an amateur photographer my free time is of a premium, so holidays and weekends are when I am able to spend time behind the camera. Luckily I have plenty of wildlife locally to keep me busy and winter is my favourite time especially when snow lies on the ground.

Pine Marten (Martes martes)

What are your earliest memories of your passion for nature?

I have always been interested in nature for as long as I can remember and spending time outdoors, whether on a mountain, in a wood or on the coast is important to me because I feel that I have a connection with nature. I joined the Young Ornithologist Club in the RSPB as a young boy and taught myself to identify birds and their bird song and to this day I take great pleasure from watching them and feeding them in my garden.

I have had an interest in photography since my late teens but at first it was landscapes then one day about 12 years ago I bought a small digital SLR camera and started to photograph butterflies and dragonflies and from there birds and mammals, buying different lenses as I needed them. It can be a very expensive hobby but there are a lot of inexpensive but very good lenses out there today and the beauty of digital photography is that if you do not like the image you just have to delete it.

What mammal-related topic has pricked up your ears recently? Can you explain further and whether you think this is relevant to UK mammals and Biodiversity?

Recently it has been decided to give the Beaver full legal protection following trials in several areas in Scotland which is great news since the Beaver is seen as a keystone species in the environment. It was hunted to extinction in the 16th century and should be made welcome and given the necessary protection. There is sometimes a conflict with landowners who claim the beavers flood their land but the benefits outweigh the negatives in that they create ecosystems which lots of other wildlife benefit from.

This is great news since it creates a greater biodiversity. “Rewilding” is a buzz word just now and the Scottish Highlands is a prime candidate for rewilding large areas with talk of a possible re-introduction of the Lynx in trial areas which again will benefit other wildlife by creating a natural balance with predators and prey. Enlightenment is the key and the human race has to learn to live alongside nature otherwise, we risk losing it forever.

Otter (Lutra lutra)

If you had to choose a mammal to photograph which one would it be?

Whilst I am passionate about all wildlife I am drawn to British wildlife and would love to photograph a Scottish Wildcat. It is the one mammal I have never seen in the wild in this country and they are becoming so rare through hybridisation due to domestic cats breeding with them that no one is sure how many true Wildcats there are. They could well be rarer than the Tiger and Lion! Of all the animals I have photographed my favourite is the Otter and I guess if I could only choose one then this would be it.

Pine Marten (Martes martes)

What advice would you give to a junior wildlife photographer?

I think the key to successful wildlife photography is getting to know your subjects extremely well so that you know where and when you can locate them and can also predict their movements. Before I started to photograph wildlife I spent many hours with a pair of binoculars just watching wildlife and learning as much as I could about it, whether it was a Fox, Badger or Otter. You do not have to travel too far and by staying local you can get to know an area very well such as your garden or local park which can provide lots of animals which are already habituated to humans and will allow a closer approach. There are also many nature reserves which provide hides from which to photograph wildlife and the birds and animals are so used to them that they are ignored. Learn and understand the controls of your camera and if there is a local camera club consider joining it. There are also lots of forums on the internet with many experienced photographers who will gladly help you and provide positive criticism for your images and do not be afraid of criticism as it is a path to improvement.  Above all enjoy your photography and make images for you and not to please others. I guarantee you will end up with many treasured memories whether they were captured in camera or not.

Thank you for your time, Nick!

See more photos: instagram.com/mckeown.nick


Disclaimer: The views expressed by interviewees do not necessarily reflect those of The Mammal Next Door

Interview: Hugh Warwick

A short introduction

As I was growing up I always wanted to work with animals. First I was definitely going to be a vet, but then found out how clever you had to be! (I had been reading a series of books about a vet in Yorkshire)

Then I was going to be a marine biologist – but the water was so cold in the Irish Sea! (I had been reading books by Jacque Cousteau)

Next, I was definitely going to join Jane Goodall researching chimpanzees in Tanzania (and yes, I had been reading her wonderful books) … and this time, well, I ended up going out there to do some research, mainly environmental education. But it was a start.

But throughout all of my exotic dreams, I have been mostly drawn to the wildlife closer to home – and over the last 30 years, I have paid most attention to just one animal, the hedgehog.

I have written two books about them; I work with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species on their Hedgehog Street programme, and I travel the country doing talks and training workshops about this wonderful animal.

Rescued hedgehogs (Uists, Scotland).

What are your earliest memories of your passion for nature?

Initially, I think it was books that sparked my interest – but I also remember the thrill of hiding in the hedge in field behind my parent’s house in Chester and finding I was being watched by a fox. The realisation that the fox was interested in me was almost as exciting as the fox itself.

I recently re-found a stream in North Wales up which I used to play while my parents and sister picnicked. The way the lichen-draped branches leant over the whisky-brown water – the way the rocks had been carved by centuries of water into organic shapes – swirling like the water – and the way it was possible to jump, scramble and tumble up the stream, along these rocks … all of this made me realise how very happy I was in nature.


Rescued hedgehog from certain death, trapped in a concrete-sided drain.

What mammal-related topic has pricked up your ears recently?

Hedgehogs, hedgehogs and hedgehogs … I know there is more to life than these prickly beasts but I choose to ignore it! The population of hedgehogs in this country continues to decline. If we can’t halt the collapse in numbers of this most popular of mammals, what hope for those that are less charismatic?

Actually – there is another mammal related story that continues to irritate me – and that is the misappropriation of science (or the complete ignorance of science) by those pushing the badger cull. When the likes of Professor Rosie Woodruffe argues so clearly against this politically motivated reaction to the problems caused by intensive animal farming you realise it is not just your own personal prejudice getting in the way. And to top it all, there are repeated attempts by some to try and justify killing badgers because they are part of the problem faced by hedgehogs. It is hard to engage with those who are so far removed from an understanding of ecology.

Badger (Meles meles).

Can you explain further and whether you think this is relevant to UK mammals and Biodiversity?

The badger story is really important as it goes to the heart of the importance with which evidence-based policy is treated. There seems to be a surge in demand for fewer experts … why should we bother listening to people when we already KNOW how we feel. This is an undermining of the scientific process. With my ecological hat on I am simply trying to find the least worst way of explaining what is going on. When I have found my prejudice confronted by fact I have changed my view – and it is essential that those in a position of power do the same.

Radio-tagged hedgehog ready for release.

What three things could our readers do to help hedgehogs?

Apart from helping to bring on the collapse of industrial capitalism, I presume?

Connectivity is key – making sure that your garden is connected to your neighbour’s garden through a small hole in the fence. This is at the heart of the project called Hedgehog Street that I help to run.

Food – there are not enough macro-invertebrates out there – everything suffers, but the hedgehog is one of the most obvious victims. We need farmland to be managed with a view to maximising returns, of course, but the returns need to be measured in a different way – we need to be increasing ecological returns.

Shelter – hedgehogs need leaves to make nests. And these need to be leaves of the right size, not too big, not too small. They also need hedgerows … so get planting and get (gently) managing – and start to ‘think hedgehog’ with every decision you make.

If you want to find out more about hedgehogs, visit Hugh’s website urchin.info

Thank you for your time, Hugh!

 


Disclaimer: The views expressed by interviewees do not necessarily reflect those of The Mammal Next Door

Interview: James Shipman

After gaining a bit of notoriety for winning The Bat Conservation’s Trust’s Pete Guest award, we decided it was important to track James Shipman down for an interview. His hard work and commitment have been a huge factor in winning this award and he is inspiring others to follow in his footsteps.


A short introduction

My name is James Shipman, I work for Glendale Civic Trees as a landscape supervisor. I’m also the Chairman of the Berkshire and South Buckinghamshire Bat Group.

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James Shipman performing the role of a “chairman”

What are your earliest memories of your passion for nature?

I always remember wildlife being a huge part of my life, from catching stickleback fish to seeing stag beetles. But my main love was working in South Africa with big wildlife! I now love bats! This is my passion and hobby!

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Ringed bat, Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus), for conservation and scientific purposes

What mammal-related topic has pricked up your ears recently?

Bats and wind turbines! I never realised how dangerous they were to flying creatures!

kq5a7805 kq5a7876 kq5a7839Measuring the forearm-length of Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus)

Can you explain further and whether you think this is relevant to UK mammals and Biodiversity?

Certainly! I think it has a huge impact on our UK animals.

[Ed.The discovery of dead bats and birds underneath wind turbines in the US and in mainland Europe, has lead to research in the UK, revealing that bat mortality rates at some sites are equivalent to those in Europe but there is very high variability between sites. Onshore wind turbines may be an issue for bats not only because of the risk of direct collision if turbines are placed on migration or commuting routes or in important foraging habitat, but also because of potential displacement from foraging habitat. Taken from BCT, http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/wind_turbines.html]

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Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus)

You are a bat expert, could you tell us a bit about UK bat species? Which one do you find more interesting and why? What do you think we could do to help them?

There are 17/18 species of bats in the UK, from big to small! My favourite is the noctule bat. It is the largest UK species and flies high above the tree lines hunting large beetles and moths. It has a beautiful coat like a Labrador and amazing large wings!

The best advice I would give on helping bats in the UK is to plant night scented plants in your garden to attract insects. This will bring the bats! Also, ponds and bog gardens are fab!

Thank you for your time, James!

kq5a7860 Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus)

 


Disclaimer: the views expressed by interviewees do not necessarily reflect those of The Mammal Next Door

Interview: Adrián Vilas

A short introduction

A documentary filmmaker from Spain based in Bristol, UK, Adrián has a degree in Journalism and an MA in Documentary Production. He currently works as a Camera Assistant and Camera Operator for environmental documentaries. Over the last year he’s been involved in many projects all over the world, from Yellowstone to Kenya, filming some of the issues that affect wildlife and people in those areas. He has also worked close to home for the RSPB and the BBC Natural History Unit.

“My goal is to inspire people through film to take action and protect the natural world” – Adrián Vilas

A selection of projects Adrián has worked in the last year

What are your earliest memories of your passion for nature? And which was your first camera?

My earliest memories in nature take me back to my grandpa’s farm in Galicia, north-west Spain. I grew up hearing stories about the wolf and the wild boar, yearning [a feeling of intense longing for something] to see them in the wild. I often went to the forest to try to spot them, with no luck. But while I was helping out with the farm, I developed a strong connection with some of the animals there. The cows, horses and dogs were a big part of my life back then.

When I was 9 or 10 I filmed my first “nature documentary” on the farm, focusing on a family of wild boars that was spending time around the farmlands. I filmed with my dad’s video camera, I think it was a Panasonic.

My first very own proper camera was a DSLR, a Nikon 3200 that I could afford with my first salary. It was the first time I experimented with the aperture, shutter speed… varying the depth of field and the light. Later on, I switched to a Canon 5D, because of its powerful video features. And now, I want to change again…

What mammal-related topic has pricked up your ears recently?

Recently I have been reading a lot about rewilding. I’m fascinated about restoring our connection with the wilderness, with the primitive part of our mind. I want to know why we long for the great outdoors and why we sometimes find home when surrounded by feral creatures. But it’s a two-way path. We need to make a real change in nature and go further than just protecting habitats. We need to improve them and restore them when possible (although I’m not a big fan of interfering) and reintroduce keystone species.

adrian-vilas_mnd_03 A herd of European bisons in central Germany

Big predators, such as wolves and bears are making a slow comeback in continental Europe. Others, like European beavers and European bison, are being reintroduced to help some ecosystems regenerate. It’s sometimes difficult due to economic interests and lack of understanding. Our agricultural practices are highly damaging to the world. Loving nature means also choosing what it’s good for it even when we are shopping. Buying organic, local, avoiding plastic packaging and eating less meat is a good start. That’s probably more important than what adults vote for every few years.

All my recent projects include mammals (badgers, bison, lions…) but I have to say that  American and European bison are probably one of my favourites. They are gentle giants that have the power to change ecosystems and benefit many other species around them. They also have a spiritual meaning to Native Americans, something that we have long forgotten and is important to bring back.

Can you explain further and whether you think this is relevant to UK mammals and Biodiversity?

Rewilding is happening (or about to happen) in the UK right now. It’s a country that needs urgently to restore its habitats and reintroduce keystone species. The beaver is one mammal that came back recently and is doing well. It helps filtrate the water and eliminate harmful microorganisms in polluted rivers.

I believe though, that reintroducing big predators is a huge but necessary step forward. The lynx is the ideal candidate, as it’s a shy animal that won’t attack people and will try to hunt in the shadows of the Highlands’ forests. The lynx will lead the way towards the regeneration of the Caledonian forests and the fight against flooding and climate change, it will also help to control the number of deer.

Predators sometimes clash against our economic interests, but they provide ecological services that we can’t provide.

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Adrián filming a herd of European bisons in central Germany

If you had to choose a mammal to film or photograph which one would it be?

I would definitely love to choose one closer to home (Spain not the UK), like the Brown bear or the wolf. I had the privilege to see them both in the wild, particularly the wolf, as we have stable populations right on our Spanish doorstep. It is also a species that drifts between love and hate in popular fiction, that’s also why I feel compelled to make a film about it. I admire the wolf  because of its rawness and resilience, and also its vastly developed social abilities. It’s the ultimate hunter, the symbol of the wilderness and of what we once were.

In the future, I would like to film whales underwater. Sharing an instant with those leviathans. The oceans could really do with our help too. It’s a vast part of the world that we can’t see, but we heavily rely on. More than two-thirds of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean.

Thank you for your time Adrián!


Disclaimer: the views expressed by interviewees do not necessarily reflect those of The Mammal Next Door

Interview: Merryl Gelling

A short introduction

I’ve worked in mammal ecology and research for nearly twenty years, in that time undertaking projects on a variety of native UK species from small mammals and bats to larger critters such as foxes and badgers, and general ecology to disease in mammals.  I undertook a Doctorate at the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) at Oxford University on the health and welfare of water voles undergoing reintroduction, and since then have continued to conduct research with WildCRU, as well as working as an Ecological Consultant for protected mammal species.  I am the Chair for the Oxfordshire Mammal Group, and also sit on the council for the Mammal Society

What are your earliest memories of your passion for nature?

My grandmother owned a small piece of land in the Stiperstones, Shropshire and we used to go there for weekends when I was young.  We had complete freedom to run around the hills, climb trees and generally get stuck into everything.  I remember standing in a stream in my red wellies, carefully filling them with water with an old saucepan, and then crying when I couldn’t move as they were too heavy! I also used to catch gammarus with my hands and build little dams to watch how the water diverted around the stones.  

Watching foxes, squirrels and owls really captured my imagination, as did going on fungi hunts with my dad.  I also remember my mum being far from impressed when I found a lamb’s tail and bought it back for her!

What mammal-related topic has pricked up your ears recently?

For me, the most important mammal-related topic is rewilding, and the enormous potential this technique has for our environment.  

Can you explain further and whether you think this is relevant to UK mammals and Biodiversity?

We spend ridiculous amounts of money on human-induced issues such as flood defence, and yet we have the potential to reintroduce beavers who can undertake much of this work on our behalf, much more efficiently and much more cheaply that we could ever do.  

Beavers are a keystone species which has been historically lost from this country, again due to the impacts of humans wanting their fur and castoreum. However their engineering skills are extensive, and this would not only help to alleviate flooding downstream, but their dams help trap sediment which can improve water quality too.  

What’s not to love?  And it’s not just beavers.  We have the capability to reintroduce many of our native species wherever there is suitable habitat for that species.  

For instance, pine martens are thought to create an environment of fear for grey squirrels which could be advantageous to the recovery of our native red squirrel.  There may also be the potential for a similar effect with large predators including wolves in Scotland, as has been seen in Yellowstone National Park in the USA where the vegetation and biodiversity of entire valleys have improved substantially due to the reintroduction of this apex predator.  Obviously, I’m not saying let’s randomly release these animals all over, but I do think there is potential for carefully planned reintroductions to be very advantageous to us.

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Pine marten

Finally otter numbers appear to be increasing, is this correct? And what effect do you think this will have on the non-native mink numbers?

Certainly, otter numbers in general are increasing, and otters are increasingly being spotted, not only in the wider countryside, but also quite at home in city centres.  This is a fantastic comeback for a species that had been pushed to the brink of survival in the UK due again to hunting, as well as pesticides and high pollution levels within our waterways.

When the increase in otter numbers was initially observed, there was a musing that these large mustelids might out-compete the more widespread and smaller invasive American mink.  

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Water vole

This would have been a great news story for riparian mammal conservation – the return of the otter resulting in fewer American mink and thus safeguarding our native water vole populations.  Sadly the reality isn’t quite so cut-and-dried!  It now appears that otter do alter mink behaviour, but on a temporal  rather than spatial scale. This means that although mink occupy the same space as otters, they leave fewer obvious signs (scat and feeding remains), and tend to be more active around dusk and dawn, rather than being nocturnal as otter primarily are.  Of course there is individual variation and more research is required to understand this shift in behaviour more clearly, but unfortunately, it doesn’t currently appear that otters are having a substantial detrimental effect on mink numbers.

Thank you for your time Merryl!

Disclaimer: the views expressed by interviewees do not necessarily reflect those of The Mammal Next Door

How I Met Your Mother – Grand Finale

…So in a last ditch effort, I somersaulted to the left and felt the rough talons of the beast grab for my tail then miraculously come slipping off. Without second thoughts and no looking back, I darted to the hedgerow to continue on my track.

The days were slowly getting longer and the sun was getting bigger and brighter. For nights and days, I searched new landscapes. I swam across many rapid rivers to try new shores and climbed many creaky old trees to scope the horizon but I just could fathom where the smell was coming from.

As the journey grew longer and harder, temptations to stray off course or quit due to hunger grew bigger. Days went by when I would see hundreds of delicious little, long-eared meals hopping around the hillside carelessly, but I had to turn my nose up and carry on with what I had set out to do. One day I encountered another jack like me. I could see he was itching to bite me on the leg, begging for me to teach him a lesson or two, but I didn’t have time for him. I struck my threatening pose, shrieked at him and flipped off a tree until he got the message and scarpered off. I then continued to follow instructions from my reliable snout, and I too scarpered off.

Days were going by and the lovely scent was growing stronger. I was now miles from anywhere I could recognise, but it didn’t matter because my head was starting to fill with joyous dreams. I imagined a future where eight, nine or even ten little Toasts would be running around, wreaking havoc on the countryside, the same way that I have for these three-hundred-and-fifty-six days of my life.

One day, out of nowhere, I encountered a field that absolutely oozed with the amazing smell of a jill. The smell was so appealing that it almost grabbed me by the nostrils and dragged me down an old abandoned rabbit hole. The burrow seemed creepy and old. It was stuffed with old bits of fur and fluff tangled in grass. It was then that I began to fear the worst. “Is it a trap?” I thought.”What is all this here for” I wondered.”It’s not even that cold this time of year”. I said to myself.

I hung my head in disappointment, as my trusty sniffer that had served me so well for all these months, had let me down this time. With my alertness switched on to the max and my defences up, I decided that I would have to make a run for it. Skipping across the walls of the old chambers and squeezing through some collapsed tunnels, I headed towards daylight.

Then it happened. As I sprinted through a tunnel and torpedoed out of the burrow entrance, in slow motion I went crashing into the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. It was a gorgeous jill. When I glided into her we must have rolled together for about three meters, finishing in a heap together. I felt like a total fool I started talking gibberish, trying to apologise but she took no notice of my pleas and just started sniffing me affectionately and told me to “shush”.

All I could think was “wow, she’s perfect. She looks so athletic and she smells like heaven. She could easily raise some young toasts”

She must have liked me too because we took a long hard look at each other and headed back down the burrow together.