Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Wildwood hosts Countryfile

I reproduce below a press release from Wildwood wildlife centre, near Canterbury. Be sure to tune in to Countryfile on BBC1 on Sunday. GLW.

RIGHT: John Craven and Peter Smith. Photo: Wildwood.
Countryfile have been filming (Tuesday 30th March 2010) at Wildwood, Kent's award winning woodland discovery park for a programme to be aired on Sunday 11th April 2010.

The programme being filmed was dealing with the disappearing species of the UK, and will feature a Wildwood hedgehog and pine marten.

John Craven came to the park especially to do the filming and Wildwood has featured a number of times on Countryfile.

Hugh Warwick who has written a book recently "A Prickly Affair - My life with Hedgehogs" was interviewed with a hedgehog, Tony Mitchell-Jones of Natural England was filmed with the pine martens all to illustrate the fact that many species are in danger of disappearing.

RIGHT: John Craven and hedgehog. Photo: Wildwood.
"Wildwood is a great resource for this type of filming" commented Peter Smith Chief Executive of Wildwood Trust "There are animals here that would take a film crew a long time to get good shots of and it gives us the opportunity to let people know about the work we do"

A huge range of British animals can be seen at the Wildwood Discovery Park , for more information visit the website at www.wildwoodtrust.org/ or telephone 01227 712111.

Wildwood is an ideal day out for all the family where you can come 'nose to nose' with British Wildlife. Wildwood offers its members and visitors a truly inspirational way to learn about the natural history of Britain by actually seeing the wildlife that once lived here, like the wolf, beaver, red squirrel, wild boar and many more.

Wildwood is situated close to Canterbury , just off the A291 between Herne Bay and Canterbury. For more information visit our website at www.wildwoodtrust.org or telephone 01227 712111.

Hedgehog Facts

The Hedgehog - Erinaceus europaeus

Recognition: Unmistakeable, the only spiny British mammal. Head/body length: 150-300mm, depending on age, tail about 10-20mm. Weight: Up to 2kg, heaviest in autumn.

General Ecology: The hedgehog is common in parks, gardens and farmland throughout mainland Britain and Ireland. It has also been introduced to many islands including Orkney, Shetland, Isle of Man and some of the Channel Islands. Hedgehogs prefer woodland edges, hedgerows and suburban habitats where there is plenty of food for them. Intensively farmed arable land is probably a poor habitat, as are moorlands and dense conifer forests. They eat beetles, worms, caterpillars, slugs and almost anything they can catch, though little plant material. They will take eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds though rarely in large numbers and far fewer than foxes or crows.

Females have litters of 4-5 young (sometimes more), between April and September. Males do not assist in rearing them. Young born late often die, being too small to survive hibernation. They need to weigh at least 450g (1lb.) or they are not fat enough to last the winter. Hibernation usually begins about November and ends around Easter, but is much affected by the weather. Hedgehogs normally wake up several times over winter and often build a new nest. In the spring they commonly spend a few days active then enter hibernation again during a cold snap. The winter nest ("hibernaculum") is made of leaves, tucked under a bush or log pile or garden shed, anywhere that offers support and protection.

Hedgehogs travel about 1-2km each night, males more than females. They return to the same daytime nest for a few days then use another, perhaps returning to an old nest at a later date. Hedgehogs live for up to 10 years, but this is exceptional; over half die before their first birthday and average life expectancy is about 2-3 years. Hedgehogs carry several diseases, but none that are dangerous to humans. They carry a specific flea, which they sometimes pass to dogs, but do not carry the usual cat and dog fleas, which bite humans.

Conservation: Hedgehogs are partially protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act and may not be trapped without a licence from Natural England, the Countryside Council for Wales or Scottish Natural Heritage.

The biggest threat to hedgehogs is probably habitat loss, with the change from pastoral farming to arable crops, over the last 30 years. The use of chemicals in gardens and for intensive farming kills the creatures hedgehogs need for food and may also poison them directly. Many are also killed on the roads. Hedgehogs may become locally scarce or even disappear, but nationwide extinction is unlikely. Nevertheless, hedgehogs appear to be in decline. The total population is unknown.

Hedgehogs survive well in gardens, particularly assisted by food put out for them. This should be encouraged because modern tidy gardens may not otherwise provide sufficient food. Gardens are also hazardous. Strimmers (cutters with a rotating strip of cord) cut back rank vegetation in the very places hedgehogs lie up during the day, causing serious wounds to the sleeping animals. Hedgehogs hibernate under garden bonfire heaps. These should always be turned over before being burnt. Hedgehogs swim well but easily drown in smooth-sided garden ponds, being unable to escape from them. Ponds (and swimming pools) should have a piece of chicken wire dangling into the water to help the animals climb out. Garden netting is also dangerous unless staked down tightly to avoid hedgehogs becoming entangled.

Pine Marten Facts

The Pine Marten - Martes martes

RIGHT: Pine Marten. Photo: James Killick.
Recognition: Dark brown fur; yellow/white throat patch; long fluffy tail; about the size of a small cat. Head/body length: males 51-54cm; females 46-54cm; Tail length: males 26-27cm; females 18-24cm. Weight: males 1.5-2.2kg; females 0.9-1.5kg.

General Ecology: Pine martens are found in the Scottish Highlands and Grampian, with isolated populations in southern Scotland. In England and North Wales pine martens seem to be on the verge of extinction although there may still be isolated individuals present in Northumberland and North Yorkshire. Pine martens are widespread and relatively common in Ireland, where they have recovered well from presecution.

Although they occur in a wide range of habitats, pine martens prefer well-wooded areas with plenty of cover. Marten dens are commonly found in hollow trees or the fallen root masses of Scots pines, an association that probably earned pine martens their name; cairns and cliffs covered with scrub are frequently used as alternative den sites.

Martens have a very varied diet, which changes with the seasonal availability of different foods. Small rodents are a very important food, but birds, beetles, carrion, eggs and fungi are also eaten. In autumn, berries are a staple part of the diet. Martens mostly hunt on the ground, although they are superb climbers and can climb with great agility.

Martens have territories that vary in size according to habitat and food availability. For males these are about 10-25 square kilometres and for females about 5-15 square kilometres. Martens mark their territories with faeces (known as scats) deposited in places where they are conspicuous to other martens; they are frequently left along forestry trails.

Young martens are born blind and hairless, in litters of 1-5, in early spring and stay with their mothers for about six weeks. Their eyes open at the end of May and by mid-June they begin to emerge from their den. Male martens play no direct part in rearing the young. Pine martens have lived up to 17 years in captivity, but in the wild most probably die before they are eight years old.

Conservation: Martens and their dens are fully protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981); martens must not be trapped, sold or disturbed except under licence from Scottish Natural Heritage, the Countryside Council for Wales or Natural England. Despite this legal protection, poisoned baits and traps, often set for hooded crows and foxes, still probably account for many marten deaths each year. Others are also shot at hen houses, and some are killed when mistaken for mink.

Until the 19th Century, pine martens were found throughout much of mainland Britain, the Isle of Wight and some of the Scottish islands. Habitat fragmentation, persecution by gamekeepers and martens being killed for their fur, drastically reduced this distribution. By 1926, the main pine marten population in Britain was restricted to a small area of north-west Scotland, with small numbers in N Wales and the Lake District. Martens have now increased their range in Scotland, and now occur throughout the Highlands, N of the Central Belt. A small population introduced to Galloway in the 1980s also seems to be spreading. slowly. It is not known whether their populations in England and Wales are expanding, or even if they still exist. The pine marten remains one of the rarest native mammals in Great Britain, with a total population of around 3-4,000, but Ireland probably also has as many.

Prime habitats for pine martens seem to be well wooded areas, with high densities of voles that are their principal prey. Female pine martens with young are extremely sensitive to human disturbance, which can cause a female to move her young from a den or even eat them. Foxes also seem to be a threat to young martens, and dens or scree have the advantage of being safe from them.

Increased forestry and enlightened estate management are likely to help pine martens recolonise their former haunts in the future. In areas where pine martens currently occur, practical management methods may also assist survival. Important measures that can be taken are planting connections between suitable habitats to prevent further fragmentation; creation and maintenance of cover particularly along streams, to provide travel routes and shelter and management of habitats for voles and other food items.

Reintroductions of martens to England have been suggested but a greater understanding of martens is needed before these should be attempted. More detailed studies of the distribution and numbers of the populations in northern England and Wales and the reasons for their apparent recent decline are required.

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