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Squirrels and rabbits are hard to miss around the woods, but the more discerning
observer may catch a glimpse of a Polecat or a Fox. Most of our mammals are active
at night but we can sometimes catch them on early mornings or at dusk.
The following mammals have been spotted in Coed Craig Ruperra:
There are 17 species of bats in the UK, 8 of which have been spotted at, or near,
Coed Craig Ruperra. These are:
The habitats of the woodland are used as home and foraging grounds to many species
of bat. The efforts of Ruperra volunteers and the Valleys Bat Group have revealed
that common species at Ruperra include Daubentons, Noctule, Brown Long-eared, Whiskered/Brandts
and Common and Soprano Pipistrelle. There are bat boxes on some of the larger trees,
which are checked twice a year; you need a head for heights for these surveys! Not
all bats will use boxes, as some of them have different requirements and prefer caves,
or buildings such as old barns, but we do find Pipistrelles in our boxes.
Nearby, old buildings support a maternity colony of Greater Horseshoe Bats which
regularly pass through the woods on their way to their foraging grounds in the local
area. Horseshoe bats (Rhinolophidae) are rare in the UK with Lesser Horseshoes confined
to Wales, western England and western Ireland and Greater Horseshoe confined to South
Wales and southwest England.
Every summer, the volunteers of Ruperra lead monthly guided bat walks, and on these
you can learn to indentify some of the different species with the help of electronic
bat detectors. For more details see our events page.
The large dark eyes of the tiny Hazel or Common Dormouse are an indication that this
is a nocturnal creature. Most people nowadays are unlikely to see one except on the
television or in photos. The reasons behind this are simple. Firstly, they are an
increasingly rare species, due to loss of their favourite habitat, which is Hazel
woodland with plenty of connecting branches between trees, or hedgerows which allow
them to travel safely along feeding routes. Secondly, they are, as mentioned, nocturnal;
this means that they come out at night to forage for the nuts, berries, seeds and
insects which form their diet. Finally, they are arboreal, preferring to travel off-ground
via branches and foliage; they avoid being on the ground whenever possible, probably
because this is where they are most vulnerable to predation by owls and larger mammals.
All of this makes the Dormouse a rare sight. However, where their presence has been
detected in favourable woodlands such as Coed Craig Ruperra, their numbers can be
monitored by providing them with nest boxes. In these, they will happily make a
small nest woven out of honeysuckle bark or similar materials, topped with fresh
leaves taken from the canopy above. Sometimes the nest is simply a looser overnight
‘motel’ which the animal will use occasionally while travelling round its foraging
area. However, the females will make a more substantial woven nest in which they
have their family of up to six or seven babies. Dormice are not territorial, and
when we check the nestboxes on our monthly surveys, we often find two or even three
happily occupying the same box.
The Dormouse gets its name from the French verb, ‘dormir’ which means ‘to sleep’.
One of its old country names was ‘Seven-Sleeper’; this reflects its habit of sleeping
during the day in summer and also hibernating through the winter. That effectively
means it is asleep for virtually seven months of the year! It is one of only a few
animals in Britain that hibernate (others include Hedgehogs,all bat species and amphibians
and reptiles such as Slow Worms, Toads and Frogs).
However, the Dormouse snoozing in its nest on a summer day is not just asleep as
we know it. Like bats, the Dormouse feeds at night, then goes into what is called
‘torpor’. This is a very deep sleep, more like a comatose state, from which the tiny
animal wakes only slowly, and it is then that it is most at risk from predators.
The benefit for us is that when we survey our nestboxes, a Dormouse that is in torpor
can be weighed, sexed and replaced in its box without even waking up – which is why
we have some great photos of them!
Dormice are, however, a protected species. It is against the law to disturb them
or their nests without a licence, so if you do see a nestbox on your walk around
our woodland or anywhere else, please stay well away from it!