By Russell Wynn, 23 March 2016
The New Forest is home to a wide variety of mammals, many of which are familiar to visitors, e.g. Fallow Deer and Badger, and many of which are less well known, e.g. Polecat and Muntjac Deer. One of the aims of Wild New Forest is to improve our understanding of some of these lesser-known mammal species inhabiting the national park. However, as many mammals are largely nocturnal and secretive, this can be very challenging!
One method regularly used to improve understanding of mammal presence and distribution is ‘camera trapping’, whereby remote trail cameras are emplaced in suitable locations and are triggered by motion as an animal moves through the detection field. We use two infrared cameras that capture still images at any time of day when the motion sensor is triggered, and have no visible flash to minimise disturbance to the animals. These cameras can be left out in all weathers for weeks at a time, and record images on standard SD memory cards. We have also recently deployed an additional camera that records short videos when the motion sensor is triggered, specifically to see what is visiting our Hawfinch baiting station (more on that in a later blog post).
We began routinely camera trapping in the New Forest a few months ago, and are operating under Forestry Commission license. We use a triple-locking system for security, whereby the cameras are secured to a tree or fence post, padlocked to prevent internal access, and code-locked to prevent access to the controls. They are also placed away from areas easily accessed by the public.
The New Forest covers a big area, and some habitats and features are more appealing to mammals than others. We are grateful to Martin Noble of Hampshire Mammal Group who has provided us with records and valuable knowledge of species such as Otter and Polecat, which has helped guide where our cameras are deployed. We generally try and target linear features, such as fence lines, streams, and woodland rides that act as mammal ‘highways’. The next step is then finding a suitable location to secure the camera, and ensuring the field of view is optimal. It takes a while to get a feel for what will make a good deployment site, and it is very satisfying to return a few days or weeks later and recover some interesting images. Conversely, it can be very deflating to check on a camera deployed in an apparently prime location, and find that absolutely nothing has happened!
Shown below are some of the highlights from the first three months of this year – note the date, time and temperature, as recorded on each image. Further details of an even more exciting discovery are coming soon!
Some other interesting examples of camera trapping can be found here at the Zoological Society of London website, including a few exciting species that are unlikely to be found in the New Forest!