Cornwall is lucky enough to be home to at least 58 different species of mammal ranging from the tiny pygmy shrew weighing in at 5g, to the fin whale which can tip the scales at 80 tonnes. Cornwall is unusual in that many of our native mammals are found around the coasts where whales, dolphins and seals feed in the rich, shallow waters.
Our milder climate and abundance of abandoned mine workings and old buildings make Cornwall a great place for bats and we have at least 13 species. You might be lucky enough to see the tiny common pipistrelle flitting around the garden at dusk or the blackbird-sized greater horseshoe bat leaving an old church or pumping house at night to drop low over the fields in search of moths and beetles.
Our varied countryside harbours Britain’s largest terrestrial mammal. Red deer were, until recently, found only in the Tamar valley but now occur all the way west to Penwith. As large as a pony, they are often seen in herds of 20 or more individuals grazing near woodlands in the evening or early morning. By the time of the autumn rut, or breeding season, the males have a set of impressive antlers and their haunting bellows can be heard through the woodland valleys of Bodmin moor as they establish their dominance. Our commonest deer is the smaller, goat-sized roe deer. Normally solitary, they may be seen in woodland and scrub anywhere in the county. The graceful fallow deer is found in a few areas around Cornwall, still hefted to long since abandoned mediaeval deer parks.
Rabbits are one of the easiest mammals to spot, although they cause problems for farmers with their enthusiastic burrowing and nibbling, their activities are important in keeping grass short on the coast, allowing the iconic Cornish chough to find food and flourish.
Many of our terrestrial mammals are secretive and nocturnal. Channelling your inner Ray Mears can reveal plenty of signs of their presence. Mole hills are everywhere but you may also see footprints, droppings or feeding signs of many other mammals. Badgers and foxes are widespread and you may be lucky enough to see one crossing a lane at night, hedgehogs and stoats (and the closely related weasel) like to hunt along roadside verges as well. The largest British member of the weasel family is the otter. Cornwall is an internationally important area for otters and you may be lucky to see one in any of our streams, rivers or estuaries if you are quiet. One was even seen in Mousehole harbour last year!
Plenty of small mammals are scurrying around in the undergrowth – apart from the usual suspects (wood mice, voles, shrews and brown rats) we also have dormice in the woods of the East and harvest mice in some areas. Water voles can be seen around Bude following a re-introduction a few years ago. Another recent reintroduction, after an absence of some 400 years, has been the European beaver. Individuals have been moved from Germany and Scotland to fenced sites to study the practicalities of returning them to the wild. Without quite so much fanfare and organisation we have also seen the return of polecats and the occasional pine marten to the county in recent years, again after many years of absence.
Cornwall Mammal Group was established to raise awareness and understanding of mammals in the county. We aim to bring together people with an interest in wildlife in order to enable training, study and survey to enable conservation of mammals and their habitats. We are a voluntary organisation running events including talks and meetings to hands-on surveys days and training in handling and recording. Many of our events are also open to the general public and are advertised on our website and social media. We are open to everyone, so please join in and help us look after our amazing wildlife.