Written by Elen Sentier, 2023
Walking your pets
My spring plea for wildlife is for all pet owners to be responsible, and keep wildlife and livestock safe this spring. So please keep your dogs on short leads and your children on the paths now that Spring is here.
Not only are the birds nesting but so are the small mammals from rabbits, hares and foxes to the wee beasts like mice, voles and shrews, as well as many species emerging from hibernation. They all use the grass, heather and scrub to bring up their young, so let’s not disturb them with dogs or children at such a vital time.
When you’re out for a walk
There’s so much to see in spring and, because there are lots of young ones about, you’re more likely to see them. The youngsters don’t have the experience and wariness their parents do, they love to play and chase, and they don’t yet know to be wary of people so it’s up to us to be careful of them.
If you see baby animals please don’t go near them and never touch them. If you touch them, you may leave your scent on them. If their parents smell you on their babies, they may desert them, and then the babies will die.
What to look out for
You’ll likely see rabbits, hares, foxes and squirrels. If you know where there’s a badger sett and go out at dawn or dusk you might well be lucky enough to see badgers. They come out to feed on earthworms, and as the sun goes down and they’ll bring the young ones with them. Watching them play is delightful!
If you go badger watching you need to sit downwind so any breeze blows from the badgers to you. Like all our wild mammals, badgers have a superb sense of smell so if the wind blows from you to them they’ll smell you and not come near. They also have good hearing so sit very still and quietly. If your children are with you explain to them they need to stop any squeaks of joy and certainly no talking or they may frighten the badgers away. Once you’re back in the car, you can all shout with joy and really give vent to the thrill you just had.
Please don’t lure them with peanuts! They do love them but they’re not really good for them. Badgers would never eat peanuts in nature, peanuts don’t grow in Britain so it’s not possible, so let’s not give them the taste!
Then there are hares. Hares are gorgeous creatures with great long ears and beautiful big eyes. Unlike rabbits, they don’t live in burrows but make nests in the grass – another very good reason for keeping your dog on a lead even in apparently empty fields! The female hare has her leveret – that’s the name for a baby hare – in the grass nest that’s called a form, it really is just a depression in the grass so a roaming dog would easily disturb the baby and might kill it.
And the Mad March Hares will be boxing too! Many people think it’s males fighting over females but that’s not so. As so often in nature, it’s the females who say yay or nay to mating. The boxing matches are when a hopeful male wants to mate but the female either isn’t ready or doesn’t like him, so she turns and clouts him! I often think she’s saying to the importuneate males “What part of ‘No’ is it you don’t understand”.
For me, one of the loveliest baby creatures is the baby deer.
We’ve got six species of deer living freely in our British countryside. Only red and roe deer are truly indigenous, which means they’ve been here since the Ice Age. The other species were all introduced by humans in the past thousand years. Fallow deer were almost certainly introduced by the Normans, while three Asiatic species, Reeves’ muntjac, Chinese water deer and sika deer, all arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
But their young ones are all beautiful to watch. Again keep clear, don’t disturb and don’t touch. Like hares, young deer lie up in nests of grass, at the edge of woods or in glades when their mother leaves them to feed so again, keep your dogs on leads and your children on the path. Let’s preserve our beautiful wildlife.
Please report what you find, and where, to the Mammal Society. This really helps us map out where species live and so protect them and their habitat for the future! Learn more about reporting mammals here.
To learn more about all the mammals in this article visit our Mammal Hub.