Go on a mammal hunt!
Bedgebury Pinetum and Forest is teeming with wildlife and none more so than mammals! It’s likely that you may see a rabbit or squirrel during your visit, but we also have a number of shy animals that visit or have made their home here like roe deer, stoat, weasel and fox.
So how can you tell who has paid a visit? Often by what they’ve left behind! It’s time to start looking closer at the ground beneath your feet for telltale signs when you’re walking around the site. Rabbits leave familiar small, brown/green round droppings in piles and are easy to find, but keep an eye out for small dark brown teardrop shaped droppings that belong to deer and small black peppercorn-type droppings under trees which are from squirrels. The foxes that sneak into the Pinetum leave a distinctive musky scent where they’ve been and a trail of black scat (poo) which in autumn has large seeds inside that are the indigestible stones from the cherry laurel.
But it’s not all about the poo! In the mud look closely for prints. Although most will be dog footprints, some will be fox, rabbit and any hoof-like marks will definitely be deer. Mammals also create runs where the grass has been pushed down as they are off exploring. Most are creatures of habit and will reuse the same tracks day after day within their territory. And lowdown within these runs away from prying eyes is exactly where field voles like to hang out and make their grassy nests too.
We know we have many moles here as they leave their molehill calling cards on the grass, but as you wander around the Pinetum check out the holes made by mammals down the side of benches or under trees. Without a camera trap we cannot definitely say what these are made by, but depending on the size of the hole entrance it could possibly be stoat, weasel or wood mouse.
There are feeding signs you can look out for too. You’ve probably seen a squirrel on the ground with an acorn in its mouth, but they are also rather fond of pine cones and strip the seeds until it looks like an apple core! We do have Hazelnut (also known as cobnut) trees growing in the Pinetum and there is every chance you will find gnawed hazelnut remains underneath. Squirrels break the nuts apart, whereas the bank vole and wood mouse make a hole and leave chiseled toothmarks on the inner edge. The hazel dormouse is slightly different as it makes an almost perfect circular opening.
And finally… after spending time studying the ground with renewed vigour, don’t forget to take the opportunity to look up in the oak trees for squirrel dreys! They like to make a ball-shaped nest of leaves and twigs usually in a cleft where a branch leaves a tree trunk. If you’re not sure if you’ve spotted one for definite, remember that most bird’s nests are usually out on a branch or high up in the canopy.
Did you know?