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Mammal Report 2005 (Records for 2004)

by Michael Thompson

Starting with the Order Insectivora, moles seem to have had a successful year. Up at Sykes House, Gillamoor, they are abundant along the moorland field edges and intakes, so much so that controls, using poisons, were abandoned due to strict regulations. Elsewhere, they were recorded on the edge of moorland at Osmotherley (YNU outing) on 22/5, but success in this habitat depends on their invertebrate food supply, such as earthworms, which may be limited. Moles were described as numerous around Gilling. Hedgehog droppings were recorded at over 1000 feet on Osmotherley Moor and a single adult, at the same altitude, at Shaw Rigg, Bransdale on 26/9; like the mole, there could be a paucity of prey items in such habitats. Over 20 records of hedgehogs as road casualties were received, mostly in the Helmsley-Beadlam area, but also at Kirkbymoorside, Slingsby, Great Barugh, Normanby and Great Habton which is just outside the recording area for the Society. A juvenile hedgehog was observed crossing a road near Coulton on 28/4 and a lot of hedgehog activity was observed in a garden in Kirkbymoorside. As an indigenous species, hedgehog remains were found from the Mesolithic era at Star Carr, near Scarborough, when the site was excavated in 1953. There were three records of common shrews from Sykes House, Whitwell and Gilling.

The problems of the bat colonies at Ellerburn Church, at the time of writing, remain unresolved. English Nature, in trying to help both parishioners and bats, is financing expert advice about the nursery colonies and the management of them. Questions about the bats at Ellerburn Church came up in Question Time in the House of Commons on 19th October 2004, when the MP for Ryedale, John Greenway, presented a case for moving the colonies on and modifying the Countryside Act 2000 accordingly. The church has both a Natterers and a smaller brown long-eared nursery colony within the building, whereas other species are found under the roof tiles. On two occasions during the year early evening bat watches were organised. On the first of these, organised by YWT and the North Yorkshire Bat group on 15/5, sixty plus common pipistrelles were counted out, 2 whiskered bats, 2 noctules flew over, several brown long-eared bats emerged from the tower and over the porch door, and an unaccountable number of Natterers taking a similar route. The second watch, organised by York University biology students on one of their field trips on 30/6, observed 42 Natterers emerging, along with 66 common pipistrelles and 33 soprano pipistrelles. The area is rich in bat species, some of which must be feeding over Dalby Forest.

There has been a long-term ringing programme in the autumn taking place at the Ryedale Windy Pits near Helmsley. Using a harp trap, near the entrance of some of these well concealed vertical caves, the Leeds University team (see Mammal Report for 2003) has ringed several hundred bats of various species. Two Natterers ringed in the autumn of 2003 have been found dead, an adult male at Fryton in October (ring no.Y3837) and the other at Nunnington in September (Ring no.Y3838), indicating that somewhere in the area there will be a colony of this species. The annual Daubenton bat survey was carried out on the River Rye on 16/8 at Nunnington. The number of ‘bat passes’, as heard on a bat detector, was 201 compared with 167 for 2003. Since the start of the National Bat Monitoring Programme in 1997, there has been a 4.4 % increase nationally of this species, indicating that water quality is improving in UK’s rivers.

Rabbit records for 2004 were fewer, but they were obviously under-recorded. At Thimbleby they had reached infestation levels and were also numerous around Kirkdale, Sykes House, west of Kirkbymoorside and Slingsby. A black individual was recorded at Stonegrave. However, compared to the rabbit, there were numerous sightings of the brown hare, with 35 records received. Few were seen on the moor edges and high moors, but a good number on Spaunton Moor and further sightings from Bransdale, Gilling, Whitwell, Wharram Quarry, Stonegrave, Nunnington, Leavening, Slingsby, Castle Howard, Ganthorpe, Pry Rigg, Low Park and Summerfield Farm. A grey squirrel’s dray was found at Hood Hill near Sutton Bank, squirrel-nibbled nuts at Kirkdale, Great Barugh and an overweight individual at Gilling. Of the smaller rodents, a single dead juvenile house mouse from Slingsby, a single wood mouse recorded at Slingsby, 2 from Kirkbymoorside and Sykes House. Field voles were well represented, with records from Sykes House, Scackleton Mill, Whitwell, Kirkbymoorside and Pry Rigg above Ampleforth. Bank vole signs were observed at Stonegrave, Slingsby Carrs and a dead specimen at Sykes House. A common rodent, the brown rat was only recorded four times, at Slingsby, East Ness, Welburn and Sykes House.

The dormouse population continues to be monitored on a regular basis from April to October by members of the Yorkshire Mammal Group. Since the original release in the summer of 1999, the number of mice in the wood has remained relatively constant, with a maximum count of 20 in September 2004 that included 5 pinkies – unfurred young mice in a nest box.

There seem to be few foxes about, with only one record coming in. A single adult male crossed the road near Amotherby in broad daylight. Road deaths of badgers continue unabated, with fatalities at Castle Howard and two at Slingsby. An active sett at Slingsby Carrs in a flood bank is being closed off temporarily by the Rye Internal Drainage Board, whilst the bank is being repaired. Fresh badger footprints were noted at Hood Hill and Stonegrave, with another active sett at Kirkdale. A juvenile badger was seen near Black Syke, Gilling and an adult at Cawton. Otter footprints were noted on the River Seven near Cropton in the spring. Several weasel records were received, with frequent sightings at Sykes House, singles at Thimbleby, Coulton, Wombleton, Welburn Grange, East Ness, near Malton on the A64, and two at Pry Rigg. These sightings were mostly along road verges, and in two situations prey were being carried. By contrast, there were fewer stoat records, which suggests there is a local decline in the number of these mustelids. At the 2004 autumn conference of the Mammal Society on the status of British Mammals, the decline of stoats was noted, due, it was thought, to local declines of their prey and over-keeping. Stoat scats were found at Thimbleby and single animals seen at Sykes House, Stape, Amotherby and Shaw Rigg at 1000 feet.

Over 26 records of roe deer were received, often a single or two seen on each occasion. Sightings or fresh slots were found, in the Sykes House area, Thimbleby, Hood Hill, Hartoft Forest, Eastmoors, Appleton-le-Moors, Welburn Grange, Slingsby Carrs, Fryton Woods, Cropton Woods, Kirkbymoorside (Starfitts Lane), Bulmer Hagg and Gilling. All these records indicate that roe deer are very well established in Ryedale. There was a single record of a red deer buck with three hinds from Hawnby, but also an unconfirmed report of a buck seen north of Slingsby. Likewise, an unconfirmed report of a muntjac deer in a hedgerow near Harome in wintery conditions in February.

In all, twenty-seven mammals were recorded by the membership within the area of Ryedale covered by the Society. Records with a grid reference number were sent to the North and East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre. Records were received from Andrea Cooper, Janet and Tom Denney, Gill Smith, Jim Pewtress and Michael Thompson.

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