What types of mammals might we see when walking in Combe Valley Countryside Park, surrounding landscape and on the foreshore? Certainly in the woods on the path from Harley Shute to Crowhurst there are deer nibbling the bark from the trees, badgers and foxes come right across from the Valley into people’s back gardens on Bexhill Road on a regular basis and some people feed them at their back doors.
At this time of year the hedgehogs are generally hibernating but wakeful shrews, field and dormice and voles can be seen scurrying across country paths and roads. There have even been rumours of wild boar possibly active in the area although the nearest confirmed sightings are as far away as Rye.
At the coast there are occasional sightings of bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises. We must not forget the moles under our feet tunnelling away!
And we certainly worry about the rats and mice that come into our gardens to eat the excess of bird food.
The sharp-eyed can see hares in the fields and there are plenty of rabbits - with a well-used warren in the bushes on
Stoats and weasels hunt in the darkness as do those flying mammals – the bats.
Although foxes can be bold when very hungry, they are generally cautious. In fact most mammals are more scared of us than we are of them.
In the daytime, small mammals scurry away into holes and burrows, the larger ones like deer will run if startled whilst grazing. So a gentle approach is always best.
Some mammals hunt or feed by night, including bats, badgers and wild boar.
If any animal feels cornered or injured it may react strongly to an approaching human and also if it is protecting its young it may understandably seem to stand guard or display a threat posture.
So when walking, consider what time of year it is – for example wild boar most often give birth between February and May.
In almost all circumstances wild mammals will run away from you but here is some advice from DEFRA about what to do in the unlikely event that you come across wild boar. The key is to act is a slow and calm manner.
Wild boar are normally secretive and nocturnal if they are not interfered with and there are very few documented cases of boar attacking people in Europe or elsewhere. However, the following advice and guidance is offered to those who may encounter wild boar whilst out walking in the countryside.
If walking in an area known or suspected to be occupied by wild boar, dogs should be kept on a lead.
Avoid walking through dense undergrowth where wild boar may be encountered at close quarters.
If you see wild boar, do not approach them; if possible leave the area by the same route you approached by, or make a detour giving the animals a wide berth.
If you see wild boar and you have a dog off the lead, call the dog to heel and put it on a lead immediately.
If you have a dog off the lead and it chases wild boar or will not return when called, stay at a safe distance and continue to call the dog back; do not approach the boar.
Sows with young piglets are potentially more dangerous than other boar because they may attempt to defend their young. They have a prolonged breeding season but most litters are born in spring.
Avoid walking in areas known or suspected to be occupied by wild boar during this period (February to May). In particular, avoid dense woodland or other thick cover as such areas are favoured as resting and breeding sites.
In many cases, if boar are seen from a safe distance, it may be possible to simply wait until they have left the area of their own accord before proceeding or walk calmly back the way you came so as not to confront them.
Public safety is primarily the concern of the Police rather than Defra. You are very unlikely to come across these shy animals. However, if you are concerned that wild boar are present and a safety hazard in a particular area you should use the police response team number 101.
They will then alert the police wildlife officer in the area of the sighting.
If you would like to help save mammals and their habitats you can contact The Mammal Society, which began in 1954 and is a charity advocating science-led mammal conservation, leading efforts to collect and share information on mammals, encourage research to learn more about their ecology and distribution, and contribute meaningfully to efforts to conserve them.
Their website is http://www.mammal.org.uk/
After recent alarming news of someone near Ringmer seen ‘reversing their car back and forth over an injured owl to put it out of its misery’, it makes sense to familiarise yourselves with the proper way of caring for animals and interacting with them in open country.
You can learn to help and respect wildlife by following the commonsense advice issued by expert groups and DEFRA
(Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), some of which is detailed here – but if you don’t know what to do when finding an injured animal then the primary contact is: East Sussex Wildlife Rescue & Ambulance Service (WRAS) - a front line rescue service to help people who find sick, injured and orphaned wildlife across East Sussex.
Every year WRAS receives between 2-3,000 calls for help. Some of these are purely advisory calls, others need the response on site of one of our ambulances.
On site WRAS’s rescuers provide vital first aid to casualties starting the care right at the beginning at the rescue location.
For all rescue and wildlife advice please contact WRAS’s duty co-ordinator on 07815 078 234 (24hrs for emergency calls or 10am-7pm for non-emergency calls and advice).
Have a look at their website to see the brilliant work they do: http://wildlifeambulance.org/contact-us/
Other groups help too. For example, if you find an injured bat you can get help and advice from The Sussex Bat Group which was formed in 1984 to help conserve bats in East and West Sussex. The group is a registered charity made up of volunteers who share a passion for bats.
Their website shows you how to pick up an injured bat and how to help it: http://www.sussexbatgroup.org.uk/Home
They are affiliated with the Bat Conservation Trust. Bats are facing serious population declines across the UK. There is a bat group in nearly every county working to help reverse this decline.
If you would like to join Friends of Combe Valley, please send us a message on our website contact page: www.friendsofcombevalley.co.uk