Rare harvest mouse found in County Durham

Harvest mouse's discovery is one of the most northerly for its species, says Durham Wildlife Trust

Wendy Fail who is doing a PhD on re-introducing the harvest mouse to Northumberland at Newcastle University.
Wendy Fail who is doing a PhD on re-introducing the harvest mouse to Northumberland at Newcastle University.

An endearing but rare animal for the North East has been found in one of its most northerly locations ever.

A dead harvest mouse was found near Bowburn in County Durham and reported to Durham Wildlife Trust.

Trust director Jim Cokill said: “We were alerted to this animal by a member of the public. It is a significant new record.”

The trust checked with the Environmental Records Information Centre (ERIC), based at the Great North Museum in Newcastle which collects information and sightings of wildlife in the region.

“They have only 45 confirmed sightings for the region stretching back to 1974, so it’s a pretty rare creature,” said Mr Cokill.

“Most of the records are in the south, around the Tees Valley, where there was a reintroduction project.

“There are no sightings from the area where this animal was found.

“Although this particular animal was dead, the report does raise hopes that there is a population living in that location and Durham Wildlife Trust will be trying to confirm that.”

The harvest mouse is the UK‘s smallest mouse and only weighs 6g.

It is mainly found from central Yorkshire southwards. Isolated records from Scotland and Wales probably result from the release of captive animals.

Katherine Pinnock, ERIC co-ordinator for the North East, said: “ This is a very exciting record because of the location. It improves our knowledge about this species.”

The find will be discussed at ERIC’s wildlife recording conference on October 11 at the Great North Museum, which is free and open to the public.

People can log any wildlife sightings on www.ericnortheast.org.uk

Harvest mice are extremely active climbers and feed in the stalk zone of long grasses and reeds, particularly around dusk and dawn.

Breeding nests are the most obvious sign indicating the presence of harvest mice.

The harvest mouse is the only British mammal to build nests of woven grass well above ground. Harvest mice have many predators, including weasels, stoats, foxes, cats, owls, hawks, crows, even pheasants and their average lifespan is 18 months.

Harvest mice usually have two or three litters a year in the wild. The young are abandoned after about 16 days.

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