Appreciating all mammals
It takes a certain type of person to be a wild mammal enthusiast and I should know because I am one.
For one thing, UK mammals tend to be nocturnal, or at least crepuscular (a great word meaning primarily active at dawn and dusk), which makes them difficult to observe. So, unless you are fortunate enough to have mammals visiting your garden, you need to put in a lot of effort to see them.
Mammals also tend to divide people’s opinions in ways that other animals don’t. Foxes are a good example. Most people are thrilled to get a fleeting glimpse of a fox crossing the road in front of their vehicle, but some people loathe them and spend all of their time trying to eradicate them. The same goes for Deer. It isn’t just a town versus country issue either, it is something much deeper than that in our psyche.
Likewise for badgers. The Badger Trust does brilliant work informing people about this mysterious member of the weasel family and people go to great lengths to protect them from persecution, so much so that they are one of the few creatures with their own specific law. Yet the Government is pursuing a culling programme that has seen them become almost extinct in some areas of the country.
Another unusual feature of mammal enthusiasts is their tendency to focus on one species. As a result, we have specialist groups like the Hare Preservation Trust leading the hurrah! for hares and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society sticking up for their spikey friends. There is no Wild Rat Appreciation Association or even a Rabbit Respect Group, despite both being important members of the ecosystem and prey for other animals. Both fall into the ‘pest’ category and so they don’t get the same attention as others.
When it comes to squirrels, things start to get a bit murky. There are a variety of organisations promoting Red Squirrels, but often this is at the expense of their grey cousins. Grey Squirrels are big, brash and successful, and worst of all for some people, they come from America. Red Squirrels are native to the UK, but they too were persecuted relentlessly by foresters and gamekeepers until they were virtually wiped out. The Red Squirrels we see in the UK now, if we are lucky, are nearly all the result of reintroductions from Scandinavia and elsewhere, so do they have any more right to be here than the greys?
Which brings me neatly back to mammals in your garden. For many people, Grey Squirrels are the only mammals they see on a regular basis. Put out a bird feeder and before too long a squirrel will find it. Their adaptability has spawned a whole industry in squirrel baffles and squirrel resistant feeders, as people try to stop them ‘stealing’ their expensive bird feed. At the moment I have families of Grey Squirrels competing with the birds in my garden, plus Bank Voles, Wood Mice and the occasional Brown Rat, Hedgehog and Rabbit. Even if I do find some of these mammals less attractive than others, I have learned to appreciate them all. Maybe if we all learned to be a bit more accepting of others, the world would be a better place.