Harvest mice in linked up habitat doing better than those in isolated pockets study concludes

Thursday 8th September 2011

Harvest mouse by Mike Taylor

Harvest mice communities in Living Landscapes - areas linked up to other natural habitats - are doing better than those living in isolated pockets of habitat, concludes a two and a half year project led by Martha Meek for Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

Other findings show that rather than being confined to wheat fields the mice actually favour rough grassland found in field margins, the edge of reedbeds and the thick vegetation on riverbanks to make their characteristic round nests. Although the study shows the mice are more widespread than previously thought, they are not as common as they used to be and remain extremely vulnerable to habitat loss.

The harvest mouse project, which started in 2009, built on the success of the Suffolk Barn Owl project by analysing barn owl pellets from all over Suffolk for signs of harvest mouse remains. Trained volunteers collected these from hundreds of barn owl nesting sites as a means of locating harvest mouse hotspots and used this initial information to select where fieldwork effort should be concentrated.

“This involved searching for nests and recording land use. In the final phase of the project we used the information gathered to deliver pro-active, site based landowner advice and training on encouraging the mice. Our work on previous wildlife projects has shown that positive action by landowners can turn around a critical situation for dwindling populations,” says project leader Martha Meek.

“It is really easy to manage land for harvest mice and they usually move in quite quickly. We are recommending to farmers that they leave rough grass margins around their fields and on other areas of the farm. Wild bird and game cover crops containing millet also seem to be attractive to the mice. To other landowners, including people with reasonable sized gardens, we would also suggest they leave a good area of long grass and cut it in rotation every four or so years.”

The harvest mouse (Micromys minuitus) has suffered a huge decline in numbers since the 1970s due to land use changes and habitat loss, and is listed as a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species. It is the UK’s smallest rodent weighing about the same as a 20p! Harvest mice build characteristic woven nests up to a metre above ground level which are most visible in autumn when they stand out as withered grassy balls.

The Trust’s vision of a Living Landscape for Suffolk will restore, recreate and reconnect 30,000 acres of habitat around their nature reserves and link them through a web of wildlife-rich countryside across the county. Connecting habitats with natural corridors allows wildlife to expand or move in response to threats such as climate change. Living Landscapes work for people as well as wildlife, connecting towns and villages to the countryside, supporting strong communities, sustainable farming and boosting local economies.

Tagged with: Living Landscapes, Harvest Mouse, Living Landscape