Tag Archives: Mammal Society

How to use a mammal footprint tunnel

It may only be March, but the hedgehogs are already out and about in my garden. So I thought it was time to dust off the mammal footprint tunnel again. These are simple plastic tunnels that contain some tempting food, inkpads and paper, so when a mammal comes to investigate the food, they leave inky footprints behind. Here’s how to set one up.

What you need:

What you need to set up a footprint tunnel: tunnel, tracking plate, tasty food, masking tape, vegetable oil, black poster paint powder, something to mix the paint in, A4 paper, paper clips, tent pegs, footprint guide
What you need to set up a footprint tunnel: tunnel, tracking plate, tasty food, masking tape, vegetable oil, black poster paint powder, something to mix the paint in, A4 paper, paper clips, tent pegs, footprint guide
  1. A plastic footprint tunnel, big enough for your target animal to fit through
  2. A tracking plate (a simple sheet of stiff plastic that you put the bait, ink and paper on, and insert in the tunnel)
  3. Something tasty (see below for some ideas)
  4. Wide masking tape
  5. Black poster paint powder
  6. Vegetable oil
  7. Two sheets of A4 paper
  8. 8 paper clips
  9. Tent pegs to keep the tunnel in place
  10. Footprint guide

Assemble your tunnel

Insert the tabs into the slots
Insert the tabs into the slots

If you use a flatpack tunnel of the design recommended by the Mammal Society, all you need to do is fold it out, and insert the tabs into the slot – easy.

Get your tracking plate ready

This involves several stages:

  • Paper clip a sheet of A4 paper at each end of the tracking plate.
Put two strips of masking tape on your tracking plate
Put two strips of masking tape on your tracking plate
  • Put two strips of masking tape across the tracking plate, each the distance of just over the length of an A4 sheet of paper from one of the ends of the tracking plate
  • Mix one part black poster paint powder with two parts vegetable oil (I used sunflower oil), so if forms a smooth black ink. This is safe for mammals to lick off their paws, and stays damp for several nights. 1 teaspoon of powder and 2 of oil will be enough for your tunnel for several nights. If you make up more than that, keep the excess in a sealed jar until you need it
  • Apply a layer of ‘ink’ to the two strips of masking tape
Apply your 'ink' to the masking tape strips
Apply your ‘ink’ to the masking tape strips

Site your tunnel

Now pick a good spot to place your tunnel. Next to / under hedges is a good spot (hedgehogs live up to their names), or along a fence or shed, or on the edge of grassland or woodland. I put mine next to a small garden hedge.

Edges of habitat are a good place to site the tunnel. Here's it's between a small hedge and grass.
Edges of habitat are a good place to site the tunnel. Here’s it’s between a small hedge and grass.

Make sure the tunnel is flat on the ground, and use the tent pegs to keep it in place (you’ll need to pierce a hole in the floor of the tunnel for this, but that’s easily done with a pen knife).

Pick your bait

Previously I’ve had good results with dried mealworms that have been soaked in water to rehydrate them. This time I’ve tried experimenting with berry suet pellets (that are sold as bird food), more mealworms, and dried cat food soaked in water. The hedgehogs have hoovered up everything I’ve put out, so I can’t make any recommendations as to which they prefer, but any of those seem to work. You could also try peanuts (of the sort sold as bird food) (I have a nut allergy, so steer clear of these), bits of hotdog sausage, seeds or bits of fruit.

Last year when I was using the tunnel I put the bait directly onto the tracking plate (in the middle, between the two ink pads). The disadvantage of this is that bits of food end up in the ink, which is messy. So this year I’ve taken to putting it in a little ramekin (of the sort posh puddings come in), which has kept things cleaner. The ramekin does tend to get dragged about in the tunnel, but at least I don’t have to pick bits of mealworm from my ink pads.

Insert your tracking plate into the tunnel

Insert your tracking plate into the tunnel
Insert your tracking plate into the tunnel

Insert your tracking plate (complete with bait) into the tunnel, and you’re all set for the night.

The next morning

Check your tunnel by removing the tracking plate. Hopefully anything that’s been eating your bait will have left inky pawprints on the paper. All you need to do then is work out what sort of pawprints they are. This can be tricky with some species, but hedgehog prints are fairly distinctive.

If you do get any mammal pawprints, please do report these data to the National Mammal Atlas Project or use the Mammal Tracker smartphone app.

Don’t be too disheartened if you don’t get hedgehog prints after the first night – they tend to travel about quite a lot each night, and may not visit a particular garden every night.

The next evening

Replace the paper with fresh sheets, put more bait out, and check that there is still plenty of ink (topping up if needed).

What I’ve found

Previously I have had hedgehogs, mice and slugs visiting the tunnel. So far this spring the tunnel has only be used by hedgehogs. Here’s a sample of prints I’ve had this week.


Hedgehog pawprints
Hedgehog pawprints

Where to get hold of a mammal tunnel

Wildcare sell an easy-to-use mammal tunnel kit that contains the tunnel, tracking plate, a small amount of black poster paint powder, some pegs and a pawprint guide.

You’ll need to provide your own vegetable oil, paper, paper clips, bait and masking tape.

Alternatively, it would be fairly easy to make your own tunnel, if you happen to have suitable materials lying around.


Top 10 Christmas Present Ideas for Wildlife Enthusiasts

The wonderful Transition Dorking’s Golden Ticket event has got me thinking about Christmas shopping. Here’s a list of my top 10 present ideas for the wildlife enthusiast in your life. Some of them I already have, so can vouch for their brilliance. Others are things I’ve had an eye on for a while, hint, hint!

1) Swiss Army Champ knife: no nature explorer should be without a Swiss Army knife, and this one is all singing, all dancing. I’ve had mine for a couple of years, and can vouch for its robustness and versatility. My one has sawn off tree branches, cut wire to repair nest boxes, removed a tick from a dormouse, prised open paint tins, helped identify which small creatures have opened hazel nuts and performed numerous other essential tasks. My superhero name would be Swiss Army Wife. The only thing that could improve it would be a torch (which I’ve added to mine via the ring). It’s comforting knowing that, should I ever have to remove a stone from a horses hoof, I’m well equipped. Don’t just take my word for it – Simon King swears by his too!

2) Motion-triggered infrared trail camera – this one’s a bit pricier, but very exciting. We didn’t know we had hedgehogs or foxes visiting our garden until we got one of these. Most can be set to take stills or film, and should have a way of adjusting the focus.

3) Animal tracks kit – this is marketed as a stocking filler for kids, but who doesn’t secretly yearn to be a wildlife Sherlock Holmes? It’s on my Christmas list!

4) Camera bird box – give your loved one the tools to run their own Springwatch. We’ve been very impressed with the quality of the camera on ours, and while our bluetits have yet to get their youngsters as far as fledging, it’s still been fascinating to follow their progress each day. Plus when the nest box is not in use you can use the camera for other projects.

5) Mammal tunnel – more wildlife detective gear! Following on the theme of number 3, this simple set-up can help reveal which mammals make use of your garden. I think it would be a good project to do with a child (although don’t expect to find hedgehogs in winter!) or the young at heart. I enjoyed trying ours out, and if your loved one already has a bird box camera it can easily be rigged up (using gaffer tape) in the tunnel.

6) Paramo waterproof trousers – another expensive one, I’m afraid. But for anyone who spends a lot of time out in the Great British weather, these are an excellent choice. Not only do they keep the water out, but they are breathable and well ventilated, so you don’t end up with steamy legs. And they are comfortable enough to wear as normal trousers (rather than over-trousers), so you can just put them on before you set off, and not have to wrestle to get them on over your boots half way up a cliff when it starts raining. Having dry legs makes the outdoors a lot pleasanter on a rainy day.

7) Wildlife books – For the stormy days when not even good waterproofs are enough to persuade you away from the fire, a good selection of wildlife books is essential. General guides are useful for identifying animals, or working out where to see them. As a good, concise guide with plenty of pictures I would recommend the Collins Complete Guide to British Animals For a more weighty tome filled with high quality scholarship Mammals of the British Isles can’t be beaten. Hugh Warwick’s The Beauty in the Beast is an inspiring read, and the British Natural History series is good. On my Christmas list this year is Badgerlands by Patrick Barkham and the new edition of Otters by Paul Chanin.

8) Camera bird feeding station – If your loved one already has a bird box camera, this feeding station can make use of the camera when it’s not spring. I haven’t tried it, but it’s on my list.

9) A hand lens (or magnifying glass) – Hand lenses are very useful for examining things close up. It can help you distinguish what sort of mouse has been nibbling a nut, whose fur has been caught on barbed wire, and give you a better view into the world of insects. Another important tool in the wildlife detective’s kit. Just the pipe and deerstalker hat to go!

10) Courses – there’s so much to learn about wildlife, and good as books and films may be, they can’t rival getting out in the wild with an expert. I’ve been on lots run by Surrey Wildlife Trust and can recommend them. I’ve also had a couple of very enjoyable photography days at the British Wildlife Centre. Other Wildlife Trusts, the PTES, the Mammal Society and the Field Studies Council all run a selection as well – have a look to see if there are any that might inform and inspire your loved one.

I hope this list provides a bit of inspiration. What would you have on your list of gift ideas for wildlife lovers?

Whose pawprints are these?

I’ve got an exciting new toy! It’s not much to look at. A black plastic tunnel. But it’s great at creating suspense. It’s a tool for finding out which small mammals visit your garden, by capturing their pawprints.

It’s very simple. You put the tunnel along a fence or other boundary in your garden. You put some bait in the middle of the removable black plastic plate, paperclip a piece of paper at either end, and put a strip of special safe ink either side of the bait. The animal has to walk through the ink to get the bait, and on their way out leaves inky pawprints on the paper.

We tried it out baited with mealworms (I’ve yet to discover an animal that doesn’t love the disgusting looking things). The ink is a mixture of black poster paint and vegetable oil, so is safe for animals to lick off their paws.

Here are our results from the first night of monitoring.

Hedgehog and mouse pawprints
Pawprints from the mammal tunnel

There are definitely hedgehog prints, but I found it quite hard to tell from the diagram what the smaller prints were, so for the second night I decided to add an infrared camera to the tunnel, which together with motion trigger software showed us this: (nb. this is a speeded up version which only includes when the animals are actually in the tunnel).

Mystery solved: mouse and hedgehog.
Not really a huge surprise, as we knew we had both in our garden. But it’s fun to get their pawprints and film them. On a more practical note, if you didn’t know what visited your garden, this could be a good way of finding out. And more importantly, you can submit your results to the National Mammal Atlas Project.

You can get the tunnels from the Mammal Society, and submit your results there too (nb. They don’t come with infrared cameras – that was my own modification).

Profile: dormice (the cutest creatures in existence?)

Torpid dormouse
Torpid dormouse

Hazel dormouse, muscardinus avellenarius

I thought I would start a series of species profiles with the hazel dormouse, as over the last few years I’ve spent quite a bit of time monitoring them, and they are just about the cutest creatures in existence. (If you’re not sure you agree with that, watch this and then tell me what is cuter).

Hazel dormice are small, nocturnal mammals that spend most of their lives up trees, so few people get to see them in the wild. They have quite a varied diet, depending on what’s available at the time, including small insects, pollen, fruit, and nuts. They get the first part of their name from their fondness for hazel nuts. They live in woodlands, and prefer woods with a wide range of trees and a good understory, so food is available for them all the period they are active. Hedges are also important for them, both as a source of food and as a corridor between woodlands.

Dormice seem to enjoy proving dormouse experts wrong, so are sometimes found in unlikely places, including conifer plantations and small strips of wood between the carriageways of the A30.

Hazel dormice are the only dormouse species that is native to the UK, although there are a few rogue glis glis (edible dormice) (a much bigger, more troublesome type) in a small part of the country. (By the way, edible dormice really need to work on their branding – having ‘edible’ as part of your name has got to be bad news… how about adding an ‘in’ to the start of ‘edible’?)

While the dormouse’s range used to cover much of the UK, it is now largely confined to the south of England, with a few small pockets further north. This is thought to be largely due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Because of this, they are protected by legislation that means that you must not catch or disturb dormice without a licence. Any developments that threaten areas where dormice live must put in place mitigation measures to compensate for the damage caused.

Unlike other types of mice, they are not prolific breeders. Mature females will usually have 1 litter of around 4 young per year. Survival of these young depends on enough food being available for them to fatten up before hibernating.

Dormice are not the most active creatures. They spend about 6 months of every year hibernating. Even when they’re not hibernating they go into a state of torpor (very deep sleep) when it is a bit chilly (like the snoring chap in the video).

The People’s Trust for Endangered Species coordinates the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, which keeps track of how the dormouse population is doing.

If you would like to learn more about these adorable creatures, I can recommend the following:

  • Dormice by Pat Morris: an accessible book focusing on Hazel dormice and edible dormice in Britain.
  • The Hazel Dormouse by Rimvydas Juškaitis & Sven Büchner: a scientific monograph summarising what is known from studies of the hazel dormouse in Europe.

If you would like to help dormice:

  • Sponsor a dormouse: sponsoring a dormouse through Surrey Wildlife Trust will help to pay for new dormice nest boxes and maintain existing ones, which are important for both monitoring the species and giving them suitable nest sites for breeding.