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Red Fox and European Rabbit Most Commonly Spotted Mammals Across the British Isles in Mammal Society’s Big Mammal Challenge

Red Fox and European Rabbit Most Commonly Spotted Mammals Across the British Isles in Mammal Society’s Big Mammal Challenge

Red foxes and European rabbits were the most commonly sighted mammals across the British Isles during National Mammal Week 2024, which ran from the 22nd-28th April, aiming to encourage citizen scientists and mammal enthusiasts to record their mammal sightings for the Big Mammal Challenge.

The Big Mammal Challenge was launched for the first time this year to help people across the country discover the wild mammals who share their local landscape, as well as how they can play a role in gathering data that helps scientists build a bright future for our most iconic and charismatic species. Throughout the challenge, the British public were encouraged to map their sightings of mammals or their signs, such as footprints, camera trap images, or droppings, on the Mammal Society’s Mammal Mapper app, which is available year-round for anyone to add mammal records.

The challenge saw an increase of 110% in mammal records submitted through the Mammal Society’s Mammal Mapper app compared to its regular usage, with 473 records submitted during the week. 10.6% of recordings were red foxes and another 10.6% European rabbits, making them the joint-first most commonly recorded mammal. Second with 10.1% of recordings were roe deer, third with 9.5% were badgers, and fourth with 8.2% were European moles. The least commonly recorded mammals were water and common shrews, yellow-necked and house mice, hazel dormice, and the invasive American mink and sika deer. The challenge was also tailored for schools and educators, so children across the British Isles could get involved with recording mammals.

“Our year 5 and 6 children at Little Stanion Primary School had a great time taking part in the Mammal Society’s Schools Mammal Challenge. They love practical lessons so enjoyed making the [footprint] tunnels themselves and were excited to check the tunnels to discover if any mammals had visited our playground,” said Liz Williams, an educator at Little Stanion Primary School. “This session was made much easier to plan and lead thanks to the resources, including instructions for the footprint tunnels, provided by the Mammal Society – in fact, several of the children have asked for copies so that they can make tunnels at home and survey for mammals in their own gardens.”

“I love animals and really wanted to know which ones come to our playground. My team made a big tunnel for hedgehogs and bigger mammals but we only saw little ‘dot-dot-dot’ footprints made by small ones like mice,” said Anna, 10, pupil at Little Stanion Primary School.

Marco Atraca - European rabbit
Marco Atraca – European rabbit

The Big Mammal Challenge is just one of the Mammal Society’s projects to increase awareness of the mammals of the British Isles and encourage the public to become directly involved with citizen science. Recently, the Mammal Society has worked on improving its Local Mammal Groups network, by successfully raising £4569 in a Crowdfunder to form urban local mammal groups in Glasgow, London, and Cardiff. These groups will allow anyone who is interested in mammals in urban areas to get involved with monitoring and conservation projects. In addition, the Mammal Society is starting its conservation ‘library of things’ for local groups, where equipment such as camera traps will be lent out for projects. Key projects that citizen scientists can get involved with right now include the Searching for Shrews project, where people are being encouraged to dissect barn owl pellets to hunt for the jawbones of the newly-sighted invasive greater white-toothed shrew.

“The Big Mammal Challenge shows just how easy it can be to connect with nature and mammals,” said Derek Crawley, Vice Chair of the Mammal Society. “This challenge has enabled the public to record simple mammal signs such as mole hills or the squirrels scampering across their gardens. Recording mammals is incredibly important as it allows us to monitor population trends across the British Isles. Every record submitted helps better the understanding of local biodiversity and helps to guide planning decisions at a local level.”

“This is just the first year of the Big Mammal Challenge, but we hope we can encourage more people to get involved next year to tackle the under-recording of mammals across the British Isles,” Alana, Communications Officer at the Mammal Society, said. “With mammals facing increasing challenges, such as invasive species, climate change, and habitat loss, it’s important that we encourage the British public to get outside and take part in the monitoring and conservation of our lovable British mammals.”

Main image: Phil Orris – Red foxes