Mammals of Chesworth Farm wetland

field vole copy
Almost certainly the most common vole on the farm, the Field Vole (Microtis agrestis) provides the Barn Owl with its staple diet. The vole’s primary strategy to avoid capture is to utilise the accumulated dead grass beneath the fresh growth – the “thatch” – to make interconnecting tunnels to get about. Also known as the short-tailed vole, it can be distinguished from its cousin the Bank Vole (Clethrionomys glareolus) by its shorter tail.

The cattle are vital to the upkeep of these wet meadows and the British Whites are introduced to these fields each autumn to graze the grass regrowth after the hay-cut. Although one of the oldest breeds of cattle and descendants of the indigenous white cattle they are a relatively recent addition to the recognised range of cattle breeds. The dark markings around the face – which includes their tongue – significantly reduces the effects of eye cancer and sunburn. Docile, hardy, long-lived and easy to keep are some of their key qualities. These steers can each weigh up to one tonne.

During summer evenings, just as it begins to get really dark, the Water Bats (Myotis daubentonii) can be seen zooming around the wetland ponds and waterways and the nearby River Arun. They will, with absolute precision, quite athletically fly over and under the bridges and boardwalk often looking like little hovercraft, they are so low to the water. Also called the Daubenton’s Bat named after the French naturalist Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton, it is a bat that is widespread and thought to be increasing due to the creation of new flood areas and waterways. Feeding rarely more than about 6km from their primary roost sites, these bats will be eating a range of mayflies, caddisflies and midges. Summer roosts can be holes in trees or old buildings and tunnels while winter roosts will usually be in an underground system of some kind. These bats have been known to breed in bat boxes close to water bodies so we can hope they will find the boxes sited on the large oaks behind the hide screen on the Chesworth wetland.

It is no surprise that as Europe’s smallest rodent, the Harvest Mouse (Micromys minutus) often goes un-noticed. However, since this area has been fenced, the mouse has expanded its range on the farm and nests have been found in the taller grasses and rushes. This is the only mouse that builds its nest of grass and above ground level. Nests can be less than the size of a tennis ball and made of tightly woven, split leaves and tied into the surrounding stems of grasses and, in this habitat, rushes. The larger nests tend to be breeding nests to accommodate up to six young mice. Although the breeding season can begin in late May, the majority of young are born in August. The season can extend into December in favourable conditions. Harvest Mice have a prehensile tail which they can wrap around the stars of plants to help them climb.

Other mammals that are often seen but not shown on the interpretation board include:

Visitors you might see include the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus) and Badgers (Meles meles). All these animals use the area mainly for feeding: the Badgers will dig out underground bees and wasp nests for the larval grubs; the Fox will be searching for general grubs and small mammals and the deer will be generally grazing on the fresh growth of grass.

These fields are home to a number of Moles (Talpa europaea). While they spend most of their life underground you can see the spoils of their excavations – mole hills. These industrious mammals will feed on worms caught within the tunnels. If they catch too many to eat they will put them into a storage area to eat later.

For more information on these and many other mammals search the following websites:

The Mammal Society

The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species

The Wildlife Trusts

The British White Cattle Society

Rare Breeds Survival Trust

Illustration by Helen Joubert Design

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