Saturday, 1 March 2014

A winter store

In moving the remains of an old fence panel I inadvertently stumbled across a great cache of hazel nuts, carefully stored away by one of the wood mice with which I share the garden. There were dozens and dozens of these nuts, each carefully opened and the kernel extracted through a neat hole gnawed away by the chisel like teeth of the mouse. Every single nut had been opened and I pondered how many mice had feasted on this winter store and over what period.

Wood mice are adaptable creatures, occupying a wide range of different habitats and certainly able to eek out a living in my urban garden. The local cats are probably the greatest threat to these mice, with studies revealing that cat densities in some urban centres are so great that they effectively prevent the mice from maintaining a viable population. Here in my garden the mice seem to do well and I see them fairly regularly throughout the year.

These particular nuts had not been carried far but I have found them on occasion closer to the house, stockpiled inside my wellingtons in a small shed. Mice have a reputation for damaging stored goods and many an item in the shed has been ‘tested’ by the visiting wood mice. Plastic bags containing shallots or other items have been shredded for bedding, and the sharp scent of mouse urine has been a feature of one pair of outside boots.

On occasion I have used a live trap to deal with the mice, the half dozen or so individuals caught over a few days liberated in a local wood, just far enough away to prevent their return. It is a balance though and I usually tolerate their presence; after all, the garden is as much theirs as it is mine. I make sure that the bird food is stored in secure containers, that seeds and other valuable stock are out of reach and that materials suitable for bedding are not left where the mice can get to them. The reward for such tolerance is the sight of a mouse at the feeding station or in search of fruit on an autumn bramble, coupled with the sense that the garden is rich with life.

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