Saturday, 8 February 2014

A small winter project

Hello dear reader and a big hello and welcome to Eloi, my latest follower. Glad to have you aboard and I hope you continue to enjoy the blog.

Progress at Purdis Heath

It's not much fun out there at the moment what with all the bad weather, high winds and rain. Even though temperature wise, it's quite mild out there, insects are still a bit thin on the ground. However, I popped over to the heath last weekend to meet up with friends who were working hard on the heath cutting back the birch and gorse to make a clearing to encourage the Silver-studded blues on to the heath.

The difference that's been made is fantastic and all involved have worked so hard and done so well, they should all be proud of themselves. Lets hope the butterflies appreciate the hard work too.

All this used to be trees.
As you can see from the above photo, a lot of trees were cleared. Now some may think that this is a bad thing, however, you have to remember that this was originally heathland before the trees took hold, hence the fall in SSB numbers.

Nothing is wasted.
The felled trees go to provide habitation piles which are great for insects and the creatures that feed upon them.  In the background, you can see some of the dead hedging that has been created from the felled trees. This again, not only provides a micro habitat for insects and other creatures, it is also to deter people and dogs from walking/charging through the heather and disturbing the breeding butterflies which lay their eggs upon the heather.

Tea's up!
Helen plays at being mum as the volunteers take a well deserved break above. Although it was a chilly wind, the rain held off and much work was done. There may or may not be another work party come March, all depending on how the season starts to pan out really. I will keep you updated here if you're interested on joining in the fun.

A little project

As I stated earlier, it's not much fun out there at the moment and whilst I was sitting bored indoors, I started to flick through my little book of projects and ideas and I came across this:
A mammal footprint trap
Now, this is something I've seen done on the BBC's Winterwatch program and even the Mammal Society sell one, but you know me, I wanted to see if I could produce one on the cheap. I had already sourced a small part of it cheaply, but I was struggling in finding something to make the tunnel from without having to cut & assemble something out of wood.

Then it suddenly dawned on me. Recently, I sold an old piece of equipment which I had to package in a cardboard tube. The cardboard tube in question was the old inner from a carpet roll which I got, would you believe, from a carpet shop! They usually throw these cardboard tubes away and although they are considered as waste to them, please don't go taking them from the skips at the back of shops, please ask the shop first, otherwise you could find yourself in a bit of hot water. Needless to say, this is what I did and they were only to happy to provide and actually thanked me for asking and not just taking. I didn't need the whole length of what I was given and therefore had a bit, just under a metre long, left over. 
The left over cardboard tube
Eureka! I exclaimed, well in my head anyway. I would use this left over bit of tubing for my little trap. I call it a trap, although, nothing gets trapped or hindered in anyway. It's just to find out what little critters are visiting my garden at night by leaving their footprints behind.

So, here's what you need and how I built it. As you can see, the tube is about 10cm in diameter. You really don't need anything smaller than this otherwise you begin to restrict what visits your feeder/trap.

A couple of ink pads
I purchased these ink pads as a pair for £3.90 on eBay and they measure 11cm x 7cm. These are what the animals will walk through to get to the food.

Easily remove the lid from the pads, but don't throw them away.
The lid is easily removed from the pad which is good for two reasons, first the lid will just get in the way and secondly, you can use it for a tray for the food. 

Then place the one lid and two pads in a line end to end. This will give you the length and size of hole you will need to cut into your cardboard tube as below.

Mark the size of hole you need to cut
The hole cut, again, don't throw away the cut piece.
Please be careful when cutting the tube, round objects are not the easiest to hold and knives/saws are sharp. Once you've cut your hole, don't throw away the cut out piece as you will need it. Using a bit of Blue Tack or double sided sticky tape, fix your pads and lid to the cut out piece like so:
Attaching the pads and lid using Blue Tack
It should end up looking something like this:
Ink pads and bait (remember to remove pad covers before siting).
So, that's the hard part done, next you will need two sheets of A5 paper or one sheet of A4 cut in half. Again, using Blue Tack or double-sided, stick the paper inside the end of the tubes on either side of where the end ink pads will be.
Paper in place.
This paper will be where the animal will leave its footprints and you should be able to easily remove it from the tube so you can see what has been nibbling your food.

The tube then will sit over the feed tray like so:

Tube being placed over the food tray.
Now I do realise that the tube is cardboard and rain is wet and the two don't really go together that well, so you will need to cover your tube to protect it from the elements. I opted for a simple black bin liner placed over the tube to help protect it. I know it won't last forever, but it's not intended to be a long term thing. I just want to know what's in my garden at night.

Bin liner in place.
The tube is then placed outdoors. Try to place it along a fence, wall or other linear object as small creatures like mice and voles don't venture out into the open much and prefer to use protected routes.
The trap in position.
Once you've found a place for your trap (don't forget to put the food in it), make sure it won't blow away or be easily disturbed and weight it down with some bricks or secure it with some sticks. I've placed my trap near the end of my garden near the bird feeder and along the edge of a flower bed.

Check the trap on a daily basis from both ends and make sure nothing is 'trapped' and if you find footprints, remove the piece of paper and check the prints out against this free downloadable footprint chart from the Mammal Society.

The chart from the Mammal Society.
Obviously, in a 10cm tube I'm not going to get Otters, Hares, badgers foxes or dogs and there are no Pine marten's in Suffolk, yet. But then, your tunnel doesn't have to be 10cm in diameter, you can have bigger if you wish. 

I've never tried this before and I look forward to what I might find. If you too try it out, please let me know what you found, I'm very interested. Most importantly of all, don't forget to record your findings either using the iRecord website or through the Mammal Society website.

That's all for this week, hope you have fun. Till next time, keep smiling, keep safe.


  1. Great post, as all ways! I'm loving your little project, can't wait to see what leaves its footprints!

    1. Thanks Jacob. The project produced results within 2 days! I'll tell you more in my next post :)