Wildlife

 

There are a number of wild animals that can be found around Edderton, and the following notes provide details about some of them

Adders

The adder (Vipera berus) is the only venomous snake native to Britain. Adders have the most highly developed venom injecting mechanism of all snakes, but they are not aggressive animals. Adders will only use their venom as a last means of defence, usually if caught or trodden on. No one has died from adder bite in Britain for over 20 years. With proper treatment, the worst effects are nausea and drowsiness, followed by severe swelling and bruising in the area of the bite. Most people who are bitten were handling the snake. Treat adders with respect and leave them alone.

Adder
Adder

Adders are relatively common in areas of rough, open countryside and are often associated with woodland edge habitats. They are less inclined to disappear into the surrounding undergrowth when disturbed and so are probably the most frequently seen of the three British snakes. The best time to see them is in early spring when they emerge from their hibernation dens.

Adders usually eat small rodents, such as the short-tailed vole. They will also eat lizards, frogs and newts, and have been seen taking young from the nests of ground nesting birds. When hunting, adders strike swiftly at the prey, injecting a lethal dose of venom. They then wait until the prey dies before starting the often lengthy swallowing process. Like all snakes, adders eat their prey whole, their teeth are designed to grip the prey as it is swallowed. Their jaws are linked by extensible connective tissue so each of the four main bones can move independently. This means they are able to swallow items much larger than the width of their head. The lower ends of the ribs are not joined as in most animals and can also open out considerably. The adder’s digestive fluid is amazingly powerful and will digest the flesh and bones of their prey almost completely. Only the hair and teeth of rodents pass through intact.

Young adders are threatened by a variety of predators, including birds of prey such as the common buzzard and sometimes by adult snakes. Others may be killed and eaten by rodents while in hibernation.

As adders are a protected species, it is illegal to kill or injure them.

Badgers

Britain’s largest remaining carnivore has a fearsome folk reputation (and you should certainly seek help before attempting to approach a hurt badger) but in fact it is a specialist feeder on earthworms.  Each night when they emerge from their burrows (called setts and often impressive excavations) they check the air to work out where in their territory the worms will be emerging from the soil.  In droughts the worms stay underground and the badgers suffer. At such times they turn to other foods – animal and vegetable.

This love of worms has helped the badger to survive the destruction of most of our woodland.   Earthworms are at highest density in ancient woodland but they are remaining in lower numbers when the woods are gone and so can support badgers.

Badger
Badger

Badgers are still found throughout Scotland often in surprising numbers.  Look out for the signs when you are walking in the countryside or even in the town.  These include their neat latrine pits, their distinctive paw prints in mud and scuffles where they have snuffled through the grass.  In this way you can work out how they are using your local area.

Best of all you may see one of their setts, which typically have many large holes with large mounds of excavated spoil outside.  Badgers can be watched here quite legally as long as you take care not to disturb them: be sure to sit downwind and very quietly.  In summer in Scotland they normally emerge in full sunlight so arrive early.

Deer

There are two types of native deer in Scotland – red deer and roe deer. The majestic red deer is our largest terrestrial mammal, and undoubtedly one of the most impressive wildlife spectacles of Scotland; locals, tourists, and Autumn-Watch viewers alike enjoy their sights and sounds.

Red Deer
Red Deer
Roe Deer
Roe Deer

The striking and delicate roe deer is found throughout mainland Scotland wherever there is a tiny patch of cover where they can hide by day. Roe deer are increasingly being seen in towns and cities, with some now even living close to the centre of Glasgow – a treat for city-dwellers, but also a reason to watch the road carefully when you’re driving near wooded areas.

Wild deer are a huge asset to Scotland – they are one of Scotland’s most iconic species, and play an important part in our rural economy and culture, an integral part of Scotland’s biodiversity, and provide us with healthy food and recreational opportunities.

Red deer are selective grazers of grasses, sedges, heathers and woody species. They are found in woodland and on moorland to the tops of mountains.

Roe deer are selective browsers and will seek out favoured herbs, dwarf-shrubs and tree shoots.   They are widespread on the Scottish mainland.

Foxes

Foxes are creatures of the open countryside, but more frequently they are found in urban areas. They mostly eat rats, mice, voles, rabbits and insects.  In towns and cities they scavenge household scraps from gardens and dustbins. Red Foxes have been living in the UK since the last ice age. They are mainly nocturnal, but they can sometimes be seen during daylight hours.  Red foxes sleep in underground dens, known as an “earth”.  The dens appear similar to badger setts. A strong musky odour at the entrance hole will indicate when foxes are resident.  Sometimes, however, foxes will live above ground in a cosy hollow.

Fox
Fox

Although they are solitary animals, during breeding season (winter) when they court and mate, the dog fox will support the female (vixen) by bringing food for the family (early spring). Mating calls are often heard, and this can be identified by a sharp, high-pitched shrieking/screaming noise, which can sound quite terrifying.

Foxes are able to climb trees and settle on low branches.

Foxes are great night-time predators because their eyes are specially adapted to night vision.  Behind the light sensitive cells lies another layer called the tapetum lucidum, which reflects light back through the eye. This doubles the intensity of images received by the fox.  Their eyes glow green when light is shone into them at night.

An adult fox is about 70cm from head to tail, and the bushy tail or ‘brush’ is around 40cm long.

Otters

Otters are one of our top predators, feeding mainly on fish, waterbirds, amphibians and crustaceans. Otters have their cubs in underground burrows, known as a ‘holt’. Excellent and lithe swimmers, the young are in the water by 10 weeks of age. Otters are well suited to a life on the water as they have webbed feet, dense fur to keep them warm and can close their ears and nose when underwater.

Otter
Otter

Otters can be distinguished from Mink by their much larger size, more powerful body, paler grey-brown fur, broader snout and broader, pale chest and throat.

The best chances of seeing an otter in the wild are usually on the west coast of Scotland and in the Shetland Islands, but otters have been seen locally.   One reported sighting was near the Dornoch Bridge Caravan Park.

 

Pine Martens

Pine martens are cat-sized members of the weasel family with long bodies (65-70 cm) covered with dark brown fur with a large creamy white throat patch.

Pine Marten
Pine Marten

Pine Martens generally prefer to live in native woodlands but can also live in conifer plantations and on rocky hillsides.  They make breeding nests among rocks, in hollow trees or in a bird or squirrels’ nest.  They have up to five young, which are born in April.  Pine martens also have a few temporary resting places (dens) within the area in which they live, which they use from time to time.

Although martens are not confined to woodland, each animal requires between 86 and 166 hectares of woodland within its territory. Extensive mature conifer plantations provide martens with plenty of cover and radio tracking studies have shown that they spend a large part of their time in such areas – significantly more time than in open new plantations and thicket-stage plantations. The observed avoidance of open ground may be related to the increased risk of predation in such areas. On balance, pine martens are likely to have benefited from the expansion of commercial conifer forestry in Scotland during the 20th century.

Pine Martens may also come into conflict with human interests where they gain access to chicken coupes and pheasant release pens.

Pine Martens are a protected species under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.   It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly:

  • kill, injure or take a wild pine marten;
  • damage, destroy or obstruct access to any structure or place which such an animal uses for shelter or protection (a nest or den)*;
  • disturb such an animal when it is occupying a structure or place for that purpose*;
  • possess or control, sell, offer for sale or possess or transport for the purpose of sale any live or dead wild pine marten or any derivative of such an animal.

Knowingly causing or permitting any of the above acts to be carried out is also an offence.

* unless this happens in a dwelling-house. i.e. if a pine marten builds a den in a house (usually a roof-space). 

Stoats

The Stoat (Mustela erminea) is a small predator; their long, low-slung body makes them particularly well adapted for hunting rats and rabbits. They easily kill adult rabbits that are much larger than them with a bite to the base of the skull. Stoats are active by day and at night and are easiest to spot in open habitats, such as sand dunes, grassland and heathland. Stoats mate in summer but delay implantation of the fertilised egg until the spring of the following year. They have one litter of six to twelve kits a year.

Stoat

Stoats have an orangey-brown back with a creamy white throat and belly. Stoats are larger than weasels and have a longer tail with a black tip. The length of a stoat’s body can be up to 32cm (about 12 inches) plus a 14cm (about 5 inches) tail. Stoats move with a distinctive bounding gait and arched back, whereas weasels run close to the ground.

Although fairly common, stoats may be a declining species.

 

Weasels

Our smallest carnivore, the Weasel (Mustela nivalis) looks like a mini version of the Stoat. Weasels are very active hunters, feeding on small mammals such as voles and mice, as well as small birds. They are found in a variety of habitats: woodland, grassland, hedgerows, heathland and moorland. Weasels mate in spring and summer, having two litters of three to six kits a year.

Weasel
Weasel

Weasels have an orangey-brown back with a white throat and belly. They are smaller than a stoat, with a relatively shorter tail with no black tip. Weasels have a body length of 23cm (9 inches) plus a 6cm (2 inch) tail.

Like Stoats, weasels are fairly common though they may also be declining species.

 

Sources:

British Wild Life Centre – for pine martens

Forestry Commission – for adders

Game and Wildlife Preservation Trust

One Kind and UK Safari – for foxes

Scottish Natural Heritage – for badgers, deer, foxes, pine martens

The Wild Life Trusts – for stoats, weasels and otters