At the Trust, we are fortunate to have many volunteers that work on a variety of different projects and tasks. One of our volunteers in the conservation and research team, Heather Howes, has been working on a project that measures how variations in small mammal populations affect breeding raptors.
Small mammals form a significant component of the diet of many UK raptor species. For example, the productivity of Barn Owls is closely linked to the four-year cycle in abundance of Field Voles.
Heather uses a live capture and release strategy with tube traps to survey small mammal populations. Traps are set in the evening and checked early in the morning, and any animals that are captured are recorded, marked and released. Small mammals are marked using fur clippings, and this technique allows us to record if individuals are re-captured.
The results from this project can tell us a lot about the biodiversity of the area, including the abundance and diversity of small mammals such as shrews and voles. This information tells us the prey species that are available for birds of prey and, along with other research techniques such as pellet analysis, can tell us about prey preference and how fluctuating prey availability impacts productivity and breeding success. At the moment, Heather is using this method on site at the Trust so we can better understand the biodiversity of our grounds. As you can see she has caught some interesting critters, including shrews, Bank Voles, Wood Mice and even a Common Toad!
Heather has also set up a camera trap near to Reg’s Wildflower Meadow to see what other animals might be living on site. We were thrilled to see pictures captured of a fox family that regularly pass through, and a Roe Deer mother and fawn.