Vole-traps catch the attention

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I may not get invited to many posh awards ceremonies with lots of freebies, but when it comes to the weird and wonderful, I’m top of the list.

Last weekend I was invited to a small mammal trapping survey on a local farm. This was a new one on me, so how could I refuse?

It was organised by Graeme Wilson of the Lothian and Borders Mammal Group and was part of the Mammal Society’s National Small Mammal Monitoring Scheme – Intensive Trapping Transect, which basically means a blitz on a small area over a weekend to discover what mice and voles are present.

There were 40 live traps in groups of four along a linear route covering different habitats. Each trap was set, checked and reset at 12-hourly intervals from Friday night until Monday morning. To keep any visitors happy during their incarceration, each trap contained bedding, a piece of carrot for moisture, some cat food and some barley.

After meeting Graeme and the farm manager, we set off to check the contents for the Sunday night session. The first group of traps yielded a prisoner in the form of a very lively bank vole. Graeme carefully emptied the trap contents into a plastic bag then gradually separated the vole from the bedding and so on until he could hold it by the scruff of the neck and check it over.

Each animal trapped is marked by snipping some of the fur from one flank with scissors, to reveal the black under-fur. In this way it can be ascertained if the animal had been trapped on a previous session. Details duly noted, the vole was released.

Most of the traps were occupied by slugs, but a couple contained another far more lively species – the wood mouse. These tiny balls of energy proved a real handful even for Graeme – he lost one before it could even have its haircut! One other species was caught – the field vole, which is very similar to the bank vole but is greyer and has a shorter tail.

Seven traps were occupied with three different species and a mixture of new and re-trapped animals, which Graeme seemed to be quite happy with.

The Mammal Group is anxious to recruit new members to help out with such surveys in the Borders and would be delighted to hear from anyone with an interest, no matter what their level of expertise. Find out more about the group on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/labmammalgroup or e-mail Graeme, Graeme.Wilson@midlothian.gov.uk.

It was a very cold and breezy night and thankfully the whole thing only took about an hour as it wasn’t the sort of evening for hanging around. Nonetheless it gave me a fascinating insight into a whole new world of wildlife.