The Silence of the Fields: The Chilling Decline of British Mammals
George is a second year Marine and Natural History Photography student at Falmouth University. He uses a variety of mediums, including photography, writing and podcasting to communicate science and stories of the natural world. An environmental storyteller and conservation volunteer, he has been passionate about the natural world, wildlife and environmental issues throughout his life, fuelled by a childhood spent in nature.
The nights are getting longer. There’s that definite cosy autumnal feeling in the air. Everything is suddenly pumpkin-spice flavoured and cable-knit is everywhere. But ignoring the seemingly endless chai-lattes and crisp sunny days, Halloween rudely interrupts this snug season. The one night of the year where fear is a good thing. It’s exciting. Tantalising. Classic scary movies, horrifyingly realistic costumes and of course, trick-or-treating. But while Halloween is mostly fun and games for us, this year for British wildlife – it’s no treat, just nasty trick after nasty trick. Because, to be blunt – the scariest night of the year is nothing compared to the terrifying decline of our most important species.
As one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, the United Kingdom has a long way to go in helping boost biodiversity. Like many a classic horror story, villains seem intent on habitat-destroying infrastructure projects, but some heroic wildlife groups tirelessly work to make sure nature doesn’t meet a gruesome end.
In 2018, the Mammal Society’s “Review of the Population and Conservation Status of British Mammals” discovered, to their horror, that the British mammal population estimates weren’t as reliable as they’d hoped especially for certain key species. This is a real-life conservation nightmare. A lack of eﬀective records has meant that vital biodiversity data is unreliable.
One of the group’s biggest concern is the harvest mouse. According to the the Red List of British Mammals (2020), just like poor Laurie Strode in the 1978 classic “Halloween”, the UK’s smallest rodent is classified as “near threatened” in England, and “critically endangered” in Scotland. But unlike John Carpenter’s spine-chilling masterpiece, this story can have a happy ending. Citizen scientists (just regular folk like me and you!) can use the Mammal Society’s app, “Mammal Mapper” to track and record any wild mammals you see out and about.
There’s also a great survey specifically for recording harvest mice to help us citizen scientists make sure those little mice get recorded properly. You can find it here.
If you’re looking for these cute little creatures and stumble across a vole, that’s definitely nothing to be afraid of. While the survey above is all about harvest mice, the Mammal Mapper app can be used to record any UK mammal!
Harvest mice can be found roaming around grasslands and arable farmland, creeping through hedgerows and verges and even hiding in reed beds alongside bodies of water. If you find yourself in these places, even if it’s not Halloween, you can play detective and keep a keen eye out for a whole host of other species.
Sadly, it isn’t just the harvest mouse that is in decline. From weasels, field voles and red foxes to barbastelle bats and yellow-necked mice, mammals in the UK are vastly under- recorded. Key sightings and citizen scientist recordings can help groups like the Mammal Society to suitably manage the habitat of the harvest mouse, and provide a set of guidelines based on reliable scientific research to ensure the harvest mouse survives long past the spooky season.
So wrap up warm and head out into the wild with your notepads and smartphones. Because however scary the cold Halloween night is, it’s only one night after all. But unless we do something about it, the ever-looming threat of biodiversity loss – that’s one dark scary night that will never end.
To find out more about what’s going on during National Mammal Week 2021 click here.