During the lovely spring and summer weather we have all enjoyed this year I have made a great effort to record the animals and plants to be found at Heyford Meadow. By late summer I had recorded 80 species of birds, 125 different types of plants as well as a host of different insects including butterflies, moths, dragonflies, grasshoppers and shieldbugs. I have to confess the real small ‘creepy crawlies’ (eg beetles, spiders etc) are beyond my identification skills! I have also been lucky to find grass snake, common lizard, smooth newt, fox and hedgehog.With autumn approaching I was aware I hadn’t recorded any small mammals yet, which wasn’t really surprising as they are so hard to spot and are mostly nocturnal. Surely there must be lots lurking in the tall grass.
In an effort to add further to my species list for the site I organised a small mammal trapping session for my colleagues at BBOWT. On a Tuesday evening late in September we placed 22 longworth traps at carefully chosen sites around the meadow where we thought voles, mice and shrews may be active. We chose sites with plenty of cover and potential food sources such as blackberries and elderberries.
Longworth traps are specifically designed for the monitoring of small mammal populations. The traps are set with bait at the entrance to entice any passing mammals in to the traps as well as a supply of hay bedding and food in the main chamber to cater for any overnight occupants. Once in the trap the mammal brushes against a trigger which closes the door trapping the unharmed mammal overnight.
With great anticipation we gathered up the traps in the morning noting several of them had closed doors! We carefully emptied the contents of each trap in to a plastic bag and were delighted to record 8 bank voles and 7 wood mice. Surprisingly we hadn’t caught any shrews. It was interesting to note all the mammals were caught in traps which had been positioned near or below scrub and bramble.
Once the mammals had been identified, sexed and weighed, they were released unharmed in the same place where they had been trapped. The fact that over half of our traps had been occupied suggested there was a healthy population of small mammals at Heyford Meadow probably explaining why the local cats could frequently be seen hunting in the area! I now had two new species to add to my recording list for the site.