Where we see a bonfire, wildlife tends to see a home.
In the lead-up to November 5th, lots of people will be building bonfires. Many people have now got the message that hedgehogs may take up residence in these piles, but many other less obtrusive species will also be drawn to them such as reptiles, amphibians and small mammals.
Creating brash piles and log piles is one of the key ways we look to enhance a site for a range of native species. During the cold winter months, our native reptiles and amphibians often seek out places such as this to hibernate until spring, unfortunately just at the time when people are creating bonfires. Many species will see these wood piles as a potential home, unawares that they are crawling into a wicker man which will soon be put to the torch.
The only way you can be sure that you are not endangering the wider range of wildlife who may take up residence in a bonfire, not just the hedgehogs, is to make it just before you light it. This might mean piling the logs and wood nearby in preparation, and then moving them to build the bonfire on the 5th November.
I had the opportunity to borrow a trailcam last year and I took the opportunity to see what wildlife could be recorded along the banks of Grantham Canal. The trailcam triggers when it detects movement and can record at night so placing it along animal trails allowed me to see what creatures used them.
Below are a few clips of some of the animals I recorded. These show how important the Grantham Canal is to a wide range of wildlife, not just in terms of the aquatic habitats it provides but the hedgerows, trees and shrubs which run alongside it – ten different mammal species were recorded over a few weeks of deployment and this is alongside at least five species of bat which I recorded last September – you can read more about the bats along Grantham Canal here.
I recorded muntjac deer on a number of occasions. These are small deer, around the same size as a medium-sized dog. They are not a native species – they are originally from China but were introduced to the UK in Bedfordshire and have since spread to be present throughout the British Isles. Other deer such as roe deer are also present in the wider landscape around Grantham Canal but I did not record any on the trailcam.
Foxes make use of the habitats along the Grantham Canal with the trailcam recording both adult and juveniles. The traditional agricultural view of foxes is that they are vermin, but they are a native species of mammal in the UK, fulfilling quite an unique niche now that we have exterminated the wolves, lynx, wildcats and other larger predators which historically existed in the UK. In the first clip of the recordings, you can see a younger fox mark its territory as it walks past.
Badgers move out from their main setts each night and find food within the wider countryside. Foraging areas change throughout the year depending on the use of the land and the conditions. Sheltered linear features such as the canal banks provide an important connective route to allow them to reach these foraging areas. The habitats within the canal corridor are also likely to provide important foraging areas in their own right.
Hares differ from rabbits in that they do not use burrows – rather they rest in ‘forms’ which are low depressions in the land, often under the cover of long grasses or other vegetation. They forage and spend much of their active times in the arable fields which bound the canal through much of its course, but the trees and shrubs within the canal corridor provide an important place of rest and shelter during the daytime.
Rabbits shelter in burrows and many of these burrows can be found along the banks of the Grantham Canal. The slope of the banks mean that they can tunnel sideways rather than down to create their warrens, which requires less energy and is therefore more efficient. They graze upon low growing vegetation within the Canal Corridor but also use the wider arable fields which bound much of the canal.
I only recorded one instance of a stoat along the Grantham Canal. These are small predators, larger than a weasel but smaller than a ferret or a polecat. As you can see from the clip, they are very agile and feed on other small mammals such as rats and rabbits which are plentiful along the canal route.
The grey squirrel is another invasive species which will be familiar to everybody, whether you live in the city or the countryside. In the autumn, the squirrels kept very busy gathering nuts and storing them away underground to be unearthed through the winter and spring when food was scarce. The horse chestnut, hazel and beech trees along the Canal would provide a good source of nuts to store away, whilst the glut of berries from the hawthorn, blackthorn and rose bushes would keep them in good health whilst they work.
The American Mink is another species which is not native and yet has found itself a home along the Grantham Canal, along with many other rivers and watercourses across the UK. I was very surprised to catch this one descending a tree just in front of the trailcam – not usual behaviour but something which they are known to do, especially when escaping a predator or perhaps when seeking food such as birds nests. The second piece of footage, showing the mink skulking away with its high arched back is more characteristic.
Other species recorded by the trailcam include rats, mice, herons and a variety of other small birds such as blue tits, great tits, chaffinches and blackbirds. Pheasants too often stroll along the banks and scratch for food morsels within the soil.