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by Michael Thompson

The national Brown Hare and Bat surveys described in the last Newsletter have continued this year. Hares were seen in the fields around Slingsby, near Muscoates, and Hovingham. So far, in the last two years, most brown hare records have come from the Vale of Pickering, where, it seems, they are reasonably well established and are holding their own. Again, rabbit records indicate that they are widespread, with several records from the Helmsley and the Rievaulx area. I have received a smattering of rodent records, such as wood mouse from Sutherland in the middle of Cropton Forest, one from Slingsby, and two found in a dormouse box on the edge of the North York Moors. When doing a hedgerow inspection on behalf of the Y.W.T. with Ken Hutchinson near Helmsley in January, I found evidence of both field and bank vole.

1999 saw the start of the dormouse captive-release programme in one of the woodlands near Helmsley, where they were traditionally found before they disappeared at the beginning of the century. The project, organised and funded by the Mammal Society and English Nature, was part of an English recovery programme for endangered species. Jenny Armstrong, employed by the project, erected 150 dormouse nesting boxes and several release cages in this wood, into which 29 dormice were released. With the help of a small band of Yorkshire Group members these dormice were fed and watered on a regular basis in July and August. The boxes were revisited at the end of October with Dr. Pat Morris of the Mammal Society, the organiser of the project: forty percent of the boxes were found to have dormice in them, along with several adults and young dormice born since the reintroduction. These findings, according to Dr. Morris, were an encouraging start – the testing time will be next Spring, when the boxes will next be examined.

Insectivores are well represented in the 1999 records, with moles being everywhere, and hedgehogs, either dead on the road or visiting back gardens, recorded from Stonegrave, Slingsby, and Gillamoor, to mention a few places. Of interest, I found a hedgehog moving about on 1st December on a cold winter’s night, instead of being in hibernation. Both the common and the water shrew were recorded in Slingsby and a pygmy shrew in one of the dormouse boxes, showing that these, the smallest of native British mammals, can climb trees.

As part of the national common pipistrelle Pipistrellus pipistrellus survey I was allocated a 1 kilometre square north of Hovingham. There I found numerous bats feeding amongst the trees along the old railway track. in the past I have recorded the soprano pipistrelle (the new common name given to the 55khz pipistrelle, based on its echo- location sound) Pipistrellus pygmaeus on the River Rye at Nunnington, but none this year.

Stoats were seen at Ampleforth, Pockley, Helmsley, and Hovingham, the one in Hovingham being in partial ermine: these findings would suggest that the stoat is well established in this area. Weasels were recorded at Hovingham, Stonegrave and Slingsby, where I watched one hunting in our vegetable patch. Fresh fox scars were found at Coxwold. Roe deer were recorded, either as sightings or slots, from Stonegrave and Rievaulx, but more interesting were the six female red deer seen at Stape. At this sighting, by Charles Critchley and me, no buck was seen.

As mammal recorder for both the Ryedale Natural History Society and the Yorkshire Mammal Group I have been putting over 500 records on to the Mammal Society’s Look out for mammals computerised recording package. There are many more records to be entered, so the emerging distribution maps for North Yorkshire are incomplete. However as an example the brown hare distribution map is shown on the back cover: the concentration of records from our Society’s study area is clear. Over a period of time, this bias should disappear and the map will indicate where these mammals are to be found in North Yorkshire. 22 mammals have so far been recorded in the 10 kilometre square 44/67 which contains Slingsby, Hovingham and Gilling.

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