Rare creature found in Felixstowe

TO most people it looks like a ball of grass or straw and would be easily missed.But this knitting ball of finely shredded grasses is exciting conservationists on the Felixstowe peninsula – because it belongs to one of the rarest creatures in our countryside, the harvest mouse.

TO most people it looks like a ball of grass or straw and would be easily missed.

But this knitting ball of finely shredded grasses is exciting conservationists on the Felixstowe peninsula – because it belongs to one of the rarest creatures in our countryside, the harvest mouse.

Botanist Barbara Matthews spotted it and knew at once that it belongs to Britain's smallest rodent which weighs less than a two pence coin.

Two nests have this week been discovered in the new Abbey Grove woodland on the edge of Felixstowe and wildlife experts believe it is a sure sign that the tiny animals are breeding.

In recent years the mouse – which is about five centimetres long – has become a rare sight in our fields and hedgerows and is becoming an endangered species, possibly due to changing farming methods such as combine harvesting, reduced stubble length, and crop spraying.

The blunt-nosed creature is known for its agility and its tail which it uses as a fifth limb to grasp and climb grass stalks.

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Peter Ling, conservation advisor for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and a small mammals expert, said: "It is really exciting – a wonderful start to the New Year.

"I have only once seen a nest before on the Felixstowe peninsula at Felixstowe Ferry, near the nine-hole golf course, when it fell on my head out of the reeds when I was doing an animal survey in a ditch.

"Now we have two found in one place, which is a very good sign.

"Harvest mice have been disappearing from our landscapes and to think we have them here and probably breeding is excellent."

The nests were found by Barbara Matthews – a member of the local branch of the SWT – while working as part of a regular volunteer work party looking after the new trees at the 9.4 acre Woodland Trust site and helping them to flourish.

The mice shred the grasses and then weave them to create the nest.

But they do not live in it all year round – they build another nest for breeding and in winter live in the base of the hedgerow, foraging for dropped fruit and seeds.

FACTFILE:

n Habitat: areas of tall grasses such as cereal crops (particularly wheat and oats), roadside verges, hedgerows, reedbeds, dykes and salt-marshes.

n Description: reddish-brown fur with white underparts (darker brown in winter); blunt muzzle and small hairy ears.

n Size: They are usually five to seven centimetres long and the tail the same length as the body.

n Life-span: up to 18 months in the wild, but usually six months. Can live up to five years in captivity.

n Food: mainly seeds and insects; also nectar and fruit. They use their tails to climb stalks, then break a seed off with its teeth, hold it with its front paws, remove the husk and gnaw into the centre.

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