The UK is home to 65 species of mammals. It is difficult to determine exactly how many species are resident within the AONB as many species are transitory with occasional, unconfirmed records (e.g. the Pine Martin (Martes martes ), Common Seal (Phoca vitulina) or even big cats! (Cattus giganticus). However it is likely that we have in excess of 40 species present.
Bats - A good proportion of our mammals are species of bat making the Wye Valley particularly important in a national context. Thirteen species have been recorded and the wye Valley is host to an internationally important population of Lesser Horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros ). Indeed the lesser horseshoe bat roosts in the lower Wye Gorge are now protected as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EU Habitats Directive. The Greater Horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum ) is also present in good numbers and is found in similar habitats, enjoying the combination of woodland, tall hedgerows and unimproved pasture. Bother Greater and Lesser horseshoe bats roost and breed in old barns and outbuildings and then move to caves, mines and tunnels to hibernate.
Bat Conservation Trust
Monmouthshire Bat Group
Herefordshire Bat Group
Deer - Most commonly encountered whilst walking in the AONB. The majority of the time you are only likely to see Fallow Deer (Dama dama), whose numbers have now swelled to unsustainable levels and are causing considerable damage to the woodland ecosystems despite attempts to control them through fencing and culling. Other species occur in the AONB, notably Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus) and Muntjac Deer (Muntiacus reevesi) albeit in much lower numbers. Occasionally Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) are also thought to wander into the area.
British Deer Society
Dormouse - Another important species in the Wye Valley is the Common Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) which, despite being rarely seen due to its secretive nature, is nevertheless maintatining very healthy populations in the AONB's woodlands. Dormice like large areas of woodland and are more commonly associated with ancient woodlands, particularly where there is high concentrations of hazel.
Dormouse footage and information.
The People's Trust for Endangered Species
Water Vole - There have also been mammal losses some of which have been relatively recent. The European Water Vole (Arvicola amphibius), the famous Ratty from Wind in the Willows, which was once common along most of our inland waterways and reedbeds has now all but disappeared. Although small populations still occur in the nearby river Monnow and other sites within Herefordshire, they have not been recorded in the AONB for many years and we must assume they are now absent. This local and national decline is predominantly due to the introduction of the american mink which typically predate water voles to extinction.
The Mammal Society
BBC Nature Water Voles
Squirrels - Similarly the Eurasian Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) has suffered from the introduction of the american Grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) which
arrived in the Wye Valley in the 1930's and extended throughout the area by the mid 1940s. They have received most of the blame for the disappearance of the red and indeed the dramatic decline throughout the period that grey squirrels established seems to confirm this. The last records of Red Squirrels in the Wye Valley dates from the 1950s.
Otter - Fotunately other species such as the European Otter (Lutra lutra) have increased on the Wye since a dramatic decline from the 1950s to the 1970s. The decline was blamed on the use the pesticide DDT which can build up to toxic concentrations in top level predators like the otter. Since the ban on DDT in the 1970's populations have recovered slowly and now otters are almost at the their optimum populations densities within the Wye Catchment and, although not often seen, they can now be considered relatively common on the River Wye.
International Otter Survival Fund
Wild Boar - There are also some recent arrivals to the area, most notably Wild Boar (Sus scrofa). Originally farmed for meat some boar escaped (or were deliberately released) into the Wye Valley woodlands in 2004. They have now established themselves and are continuing to increase in numbers although efforts are being made to keep the numbers down. No-one really knows how many there are, but confrontations between boar and the general public are regular particulary when sows have their piglets in tow.
Polecat - The Polecat (Mustela putorius) is a key species that is present throughout most of the Natural Area. They have expanded their range and population size following a nineteenth century decline. They favour areas of mixed farming and woodland where there is an abundance of their main prey - rabbits and small rodents.
If you are 14-18 years old and love exploring the countryside of the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean, then the Wye Valley AONB Youth Ranger programme is looking for you! Come along to our Taster Day on September 30th.
The provisional programme for the mindSCAPE conference is here. Book now to save your place