Conservationists in Otter Valley on the lookout for tiny mouse threatened by extinction

PUBLISHED: 18:32 26 January 2018

Kate Ponting, Clinton Devon Estates' Countryside Learning Officer, has been looking for harvest mouse nests in the Otter Valley. Picture: Guy Newman.

Kate Ponting, Clinton Devon Estates' Countryside Learning Officer, has been looking for harvest mouse nests in the Otter Valley. Picture: Guy Newman.

© Guy Newman - 07831 379971

A new initiative from a local landowner could help to save one of England’s priority conservation species.

The harvest mouse (Micromys minutus). Picture courtesy of Clinton Devon Estates.The harvest mouse (Micromys minutus). Picture courtesy of Clinton Devon Estates.

Clinton Devon Estates (CDE) – which is based at Bicton and owns land in the Budleigh and Otter Valley areas – is on the look out for the harvest mouse.

Best known as Britain’s smallest rodent, the harvest mouse has been disappearing from the countryside, and is now considered to be rare.

Its conservation status reflects the fact that numbers have been in steep decline – they fell 71 per cent in one 18-year period – and also that it’s vulnerable to habitat loss. Field margins, wet habitats and hedgerows are particularly important to its survival.

CDE is now working with the Devon Mammal Group (DMG) to train volunteers to survey for harvest mice.

“Understanding where species are present is a very important part of any conservation project,” said Kate Ponting, CDE’s countryside learning officer.

“Harvest mice make nests from grass, above the ground, and in the summer months these are extremely hard to find, being so well camouflaged. But in winter they’re much easier to spot, and of course give a good idea of whether mice are occupying any given area.”

Last week, CDE ran a training day for its volunteers, including a presentation looking into the project’s background, methodology and surveying techniques. This was followed by field visits to local farmland and heath.

The volunteers will feed data into the Devon harvest mouse project and will also provide useful knowledge on CDE’s biodiversity.

“Pete Cooper, who is the DMG’s harvest mouse project officer, showed us how to look for last season’s nests in area of rough grass on farmland in the Otter Valley,” said Kate.

“Initially, the volunteers were uncertain, but surveying is straightforward and we discovered more than 20 nests, which are evidence that harvest mice were breeding here between April and October.

“We held a BioBlitz at Stantyway in 2016, and found more than 800 different species of animals and plants living there, although interestingly the harvest mouse wasn’t among them, so this is a really interesting start.”

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