On Saturday 12th November, two members of our team spent the day absorbed in the minuscule world of Europe’s smallest rodent species.
The minute, but robust Micromys minutes, or harvest mouse as it is more commonly known, is a Species of Principal Importance under Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act. However, despite this conservation status, the harvest mouse is one of the least studied mammal species in the UK. This lack of ecological data and understanding means that this fascinating animal and its habitat are often overlooked when it comes to biodiversity conservation and enhancement.
Harvest mice build nests around 30-60cm from ground level in thick grassy arable margins, entwined with bramble and other plants, such as rosebay willow herb. As grass stems begin to harden, usually around mid-June, a stable platform is formed for these near weightless architects to engineer their impressive nests. Sometimes confused with the nests of dormice (a highly protected species), the tennis ball sized spheres are woven from stripped blades of grass and suspended between stems, providing security for raising young and protection from the harsh extremities of winter.
The Wildwood Trust, in Herne Bay, Kent have recently launched the ‘Harvest Mouse Survey Project’, a citizen science initiative promoting research into the distribution of harvest mice in Kent through community participation. Our ecologists are continually endeavouring to develop and improve species knowledge and field skills, and therefore we were keen to get involved as conservation volunteers. By participating in training events offered by local conservation organisations we can stay in touch with experts whilst brushing up on our field skills and supporting a valuable project at the same time.
Although known records indicate that harvest mice are a species in decline, the evidence is somewhat unreliable. County wide efforts like that of the Harvest Mouse Survey Project will help piece together a robust distribution map for this species in Kent. This information will enable our ecologists to provide the pragmatic and evidence based recommendations expected by Local Planning Authorities to successfully integrate biodiversity and development.