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Young explorers make 'amazing discovery'

Last modified: 06 March 2013

Harvest mouse eating blackberries

Records show that the appearance of harvest mice in the north east is fairly scarce.

Image: Ben Andrew

A group of young wildlife enthusiasts at the RSPB’s Saltholme nature reserve, have made a potentially important find for the region, which could prove the return of the harvest mouse.

During a session on UK owls, a group of young explorers, unearthed some unusual small mammal remains in fresh owl pellets, underneath one of the reserve’s barn owl boxes.

Poppy Hotham, a keen young explorer, said: “To see what the owls had been eating, we took the pellets back to the classroom and carefully pulled them apart. There was lots of fur, some small bones and some skulls”

Fortunately the reserve’s resident small mammal expert, Don Griss, was on hand to cast his eye over the finds.

Don said: “Most of the skulls were short tailed voles - the barn owls favorite meal - but one particular skull and a few jaw bones looked a bit more interesting, so I took them home to have a closer look under the microscope.”

“The jaw bones belonged to water shrews but most excitingly, the skull was a harvest mouse - a significant find for us here at Saltholme and the county.”

Harvest mice are the UK’s smallest rodent and are mainly found in southern regions of the UK. Records show their appearance in the North East is fairly scarce. Recently, a re-introduction program was established in a few places in the local area, including Cowpen Bewley Woodland Park and Teesmouth Brine Fields.

Don added; “The skull could be evidence that these reintroductions have been successful, and the fact these small mammals are able to thrive here, is a big thumbs up for the habitat management at Saltholme. Water shrews, which are the only British mammal with poisonous saliva, are mainly associated with unpolluted waterways, so this is yet further proof that Saltholme is a great place for wildlife.”

The records will now be sent to the Environment Recording Centre in Newcastle and will be available to researchers working on mammals and conservation in this area.

Don said: “This is an amazing discovery, and it’s all thanks to some of the RSPB’s youngest members.”

For more information on the reserve, and family activities call the visitor centre on 01642 456625 or visit

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