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A Mammal-Filled Day in Devon

Hi folks! As we wrote in our previous post, our team from UEA (University of East Anglia) took part in the first ever University Mammal Challenge in 2017 and, largely thanks to the ever-abundant rabbits on campus, managed to snag ourselves a prize for the most mammals recorded outside of bulk-capture methods. The prize consisted of a mammal-filled day in Devon, and here’s how that day went down…

One of the ponds created by the semi-wild beavers

After arriving at Upcott Grange Farm (home of Derek Gow Consultancy and the West Country Wildlife Photography Centre), we settled in for a quick cup of a tea and an introductory talk from Peter Cooper before heading off to learn about the past, present and future of British mammals.

First stop: beavers! This was a first for most of the members of our team, so it was a very exciting start to the day. We got to see Europe’s largest native rodents up close in beaver ‘quarantine’ – the holding pens where they’re held prior to their release in reintroduction projects around the UK – and it was an amazing opportunity to witness some classic beaver behaviour, like a good bout of tail-slapping from one disgruntled male. After this we took a trip to a habitat occupied by several semi-wild beavers, and got to see firsthand how they shape the environment through the creation of dams.

Next up were the beavers’ much smaller cousins: the water vole. We visited the water vole conservation breeding facility, where the animals are bred and raised for release projects across the country, and had a demonstration on water vole handling.

Learning about the importance of Pringles in water vole conservation…

After a quick lunch break, we got to see some captive small mammals including the harvest mouse, dormouse, and water shrew, before heading down into the valley to search for harvest mouse nests. Carefully combing through the tussocks of purple moor grass, we were lucky enough to find several nests, as well as a few field vole nests and latrines.

By the time we’d finished nest searching, it was carnivore feeding time back at the farm! We followed the keeper around on a whirlwind tour of some of Britain’s native carnivores, including otters, wildcats, stoats, pine martens and foxes. It was soon getting dark after this, but we managed to squeeze in a trip to see Derek’s wild boar and Heck cattle before heading back home.

A wildcat basking in the afternoon sun

All in all, the day provided an amazing introduction to the mammals of Britain - we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and learnt so much in so little time. Huge thanks go to Pete for organising the day itself, to Derek for inviting us to look around, and of course to the Mammal Society for the opportunity in the first place!

Shawnee Wood is the team leader of the 2017 UEA mammal challenge team who won most records (trapping included)! For more information about the University Mammal Challenge click here!


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