Back to the Newsletter Contents and Home page

Mammal Report 2004 (Records for 2003)

by Michael Thompson

This year I have received many more records from the membership, and with them a wider distribution within the boundaries of our society. However, some, because of their significance, are just outside those boundaries, but are still within Ryedale. In reading this report, it will be seen that there are some important conservation issues present. Compared with 2002, the number of species recorded or observed is the same for this year. It remains at 19, with some obvious fluctuations in individual species numbers. Some of the submitted records are duplicated, and will be entered in to the recording scheme as a single record.

The majority of hedgehog records are of ‘dead on the road’, but Andrea Cooper observed hedgehog activity in her garden at Kirkbymoorside throughout the summer, commenting that some were suffering from dehydration due to the dry climatic conditions. Live hedgehogs were observed in South Holme in broad daylight in May and Slingsby in August, whereas individual dead records were from Terrington, Hovingham and two at Bransdale. In a lecture given at the annual Mammal Society autumn conference, entitled Roads and Mammals, it was stated that the majority of road kills are males for they tend to wander further afield than females; thus the prospects of maintaining a viable population were good, in spite of the high mortality rate. In terms of hedgehog population dynamics you only need one male and several females to maintain a population. It seems that semi-rural and urban habitats suit hedgehogs best, for they are not often found in open country.

Mole records are few, coming from Aislaby, Pickering Low Carr Farm, near Kirby Misperton, Summerfield House Farm, Harome, Gilling and Hovingham. In spite of the paucity of mole records, this mammal is one of Britain’s most widespread and successful species. In 2003 three common shrew records were received, notably from Hovingham, Coulton and Sykes House. At Sykes House, Rudland, the Denneys observed an adult and three youngsters amongst their patio stones in mid-August.

A description of the bats seen on our field outing to Castle Howard Lake on the evening of July 22nd will be found elsewhere in this newsletter, but, in all, three species were recorded, namely, noctule, soprano pipistrelle and Daubenton’s. In May, several soprano pipistrelles were flying around Summerfield Farm. The annual Daubenton bat counts on two nights in August on the River Rye at Nunnington indicated that they were present in good numbers, and, if anything, had increased. In the porch and roof spaces within the 11th century church of St. Hilda, Ellerburn are to be found four species of bat; the brown long-eared bat, both species of pipistrelle and Natterer’s bat. Of these, the most interesting and rarest is the Natterer’s bat.

To date, five known Natterer’s nursing roosts are known in the eastern part of North Yorkshire, of which Ellerburn is one. Natterer’s bats have been captured, ringed and released from the church by Professor Altringham and his team from Leeds University. They have recaptured some of these when they are ‘swarming’, before entering some of the Ryedale Windy Pits in the Rievaulx Ashberry area in the autumn. This autumnal phenomenon is when bats, often in large numbers and from a very wide area, come together at traditional hibernation sites, such as the Pits. The activity is thought to be associated with mating, prior to hibernation. Using a harp trap, set in front of an entrance of one of the Pits, the Leeds team caught 123 bats one night in September 2003, some of which were Natterer’s bats. It has been estimated that there may be up to 5000 Natterer’s within the cave systems in the autumn and winter, of which over 700 have been ringed to date. Ringing returns not only include Ellerburn, but also nursery sites at Winteringham and Low Catton. Thus the importance of Ellerburn as a nursery roost.

Unfortunately, the congregation at Ellerburn want the bats removed from the interior of the church, for the bat urine is staining the furnishings and the droppings are becoming offensive, but this only occurs during the summer months. To undertake such a total removal would be difficult and costly. Historically, St Hilda’s Church is not only interesting, but of great importance. English Nature has been negotiating with the church’s community, the outcome of which, at the time of writing, is uncertain. Various mitigating activities are possible, but so far none seems acceptable. English Nature would not issue a licence to remove the bats, as the law stands to date. This seems to be a classic example of a clash between the needs of humans and those of wildlife.

Records of rabbits are more numerous in 2003, indicating increased numbers due to the fine summer conditions. Some describe their numbers as such that they are getting out of control, with no evidence of myxamatosis being present. Records were from Aislaby, Pickering Low Carr and Summerfield Farms, Gilling and Sykes House. Black rabbits were again reported from Gilling. The brown hare was reported from a variety of sites, indicating that it was holding its own, with a leveret seen at Studfold, Gilling. Records came from Slingsby, where two males were seen boxing in mid-February, several records from South Holme, Wombleton, Summerfield Farm, Gilling, Hovingham and Sykes House, where they are described as common on the edge of the North York Moors.

Of the common small rodents, the only records were of long-tailed field mouse and bank vole from Slingsby, the latter of which was found nesting successfully, with babies present at the end of September; also a winter record of a bank vole from South Holme. Brown rat was recorded from near Sykes House, Nunnington and Slingsby and grey squirrel from Sykes House, Slingsby and Gilling, where they are described as common. At the 2003 October count of the dormouse , there were 16 found in the boxes, including juveniles, indicating that the 4 year old re-introduction programme seems to be working. This is a favourable result compared to 2002, when a considerable dip in numbers occurred. It seems that similar dips were recorded nationally in other dormouse captive-release programmes. The question now arises that if this colony establishes itself successfully, will it move out naturally to an adjoining woodland or will it need to be helped? The dormice would have to cross a river to do so.

Foxes were recorded on 2 occasions, firstly at Rye Hills farm between Castle Howard and Slingsby and, secondly, around Gilling. Dead badgers were recorded on the A169 south of Pickering, at Stonegrave, two at Oswaldkirk, and Gilling. Two were seen chasing each other in the woods around Gilling in May, a large active sett was observed near Sinnington and footprints were noted at Sykes House. A large sett is damaging and weakening the flood bank next to Wath Beck north of Slingsby. At the request of the local farmer for help, the Rye Internal Drainage Board, on which I serve as the representative of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, intends to take remedial action to prevent any serious flooding in the future. This will involve removing the badgers and either relocating them within their own territory or trans-locating them elsewhere where there are no other badgers. Either exercise is difficult and costly, and not always successful for it cannot always be certain that every badger has been removed. Chris Peacock of Helmsley, Amy Beer of the Yorkshire Mammal Group and I inspected the sett and searched the surrounds and concluded that it was the main sett. To remove the badgers requires a licence from Defra. Nationally, very few licences to trans-locate badgers have been issued.

Stoats were recorded Cawton, Hovingham, and from outside the area Whitwell Woods and Ray Wood, Castle Howard Estate, where one was seen chasing two rabbits and eventually killing one. At Sykes House, a stoat was observed rolling a pheasant’s egg across the road. Weasels were seen at Sykes House, Ganthorpe, Hovingham and Gilling. With the successful re-establishment of the otter on the Derwent system of rivers, some local fish farmers are beginning to complain about the loss of their fish stocks. They attribute this loss, which in some cases has been quoted as much as 20%, to the otter, although mink and herons can also be involved. Netting some of the larger fish pools is impractical, but low voltage perimeter wiring can help.

Roe deer have been sighted at Pickering Low Carr Farm, Slingsby in August, South Holme, Sykes House, Bulmer near Whitwell-on-the-Hill, Cawton, Appleton, and Hovingham Woods near Hollin Bog.

In July the hard disc of my computer crashed and with it went all the mammal records on the Look out for Mammals recording scheme. But all was not lost, for on 17th February I transferred 1847 records to the North and East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre (NEYEDC) at St. Williams College, York. These included Ryedale Natural History Society records. It was decided that after being the mammal recorder for the Yorkshire Mammal Group for 7 years, I should give up the post and hand it over to James Mortimer of the NEYEDC. So, in future, I will remain the mammal recorder for our Society, and will pass the records on to James in York, where they will be tagged as Ryedale Nats records.

Records were received from Andrea Cooper, Janet and Tom Denney, Gill Smith, Gordon Woodroffe, Keith Dixon and Michael Thompson.

Back to the Newsletter Contents and Home page