What’s Happening to Wilden Marsh Wildlife?
The marsh mouse population seems to have rocketed: they have colonised every part of the marsh. Rats are less evident along Hoo Brook. I haven’t seen a rabbit or hare for a few years, where they were plentiful three years ago. Buzzards are seen soaring above the marsh, but not as often as in the past. The heronry is flourishing. The munjac population, I think, remains relatively unchanged. I haven’t spotted a ferret or polecat for a few years, on the marsh nor in Hoo Wood. I see the marsh foxes less frequently than in the past, and I haven’t come across any evidence that they are breeding on the marsh or heard their mating calls for atleast four years. My feeling is that tawny owls are on the increase. I haven’t seen a barn owl in a long while, but I occasionally hear their screeching at dusk. I hear a little owl calling in Hoo Wood.
Hard grazing the Rhombus Field through 2017 seemed to attracted a greater number of snipe through the winter of 2017/18, but a shortage of cattle at the end 2018 might be responsible for fewer snipe being attracted this year.
Otters are on the increase and my feeling is that the numbers of American mink are decreasing, or at least they are being chased away by otters. There is evidence of water and field vole activity on the marsh and, if otters are indeed displacing the mink, there is hope that more voles will move in.
The marsh badger population has totally collapsed; I rarely see one on my camera traps these day, but I occasionally see their tracks along the river bank.
The marsh wildlife populations will fluctuate depending on many factors, and is likely cyclic. The collapse of badger numbers could be in part due to fencing, grazing, or they might prefer living along the steep sides of the valley at the moment, which are generally well vegetated and secluded in places. It could also have something to do with our Government’s current culling policy. Badgers do move about so I’m reluctant to read too much into them not living on the marsh at the moment. The main marsh setts haven’t been used since a badger died in one of the chambers and was later disposed of by the Hoo Brook rat colony three years ago.
Animals are likely to move out of the marsh when food is scarce, but the abundant mouse population should attract predators.
European badgers are the most social of badgers, forming groups of six adults on average, though larger associations of up to 23 individuals have been recorded. Group size may be related to habitat composition. Under optimal conditions, badger territories can be as small as 30 ha, but may be as large as 150 ha in marginal areas. Badger territories can be identified by the presence of communal latrines and well-worn paths. It is mainly males that are involved in territorial aggression. A hierarchical social system is thought to exist among badgers and large powerful boars seem to assert dominance over smaller males. Large boars sometimes intrude into neighboring territories during the main mating season in early spring.
Sparring and more vicious fights generally result from territorial defence in the breeding season. However, in general, animals within and outside a group show considerable tolerance of each other. Boars tend to mark their territories more actively than sows, with their territorial activity increasing during the mating season in early spring. Badgers groom each other very thoroughly with their claws and teeth. Grooming may have a social function. They are crepuscular and nocturnal in habits. Aggression among badgers is largely associated with territorial defense and mating. When fighting, they bite each other on the neck and rump, while running and chasing each other and injuries incurred in such fights can be severe and sometimes fatal.