Small predators like stoats, weasels and polecats are now a common sight in the rewilding project; and water shrews are found across the rewilding project in our streams and ponds, a sign that water quality and insect prey abundance are good.
Other small mammals, like the harvest mouse, weighing less than 10g, a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, are rocketing. In Feb 2016, 59 breeding nests and 29 shelter nests were found in just five hours in the reeds around Knepp Mill Pond and Hammer Pond. Astonishingly skilful, the harvest mice weave their nests, the size of a cricket ball, onto the swaying stalks of living reeds. Inside, the nests are lined with thistle-down or soft, finely chewed grass.
So far, the Southern Block is proving the most productive for small mammals, the thick vegetation providing them with food and nesting habitat as well as protection from predators. A survey carried out over seven days in the summer of 2016 showed that between 17-32 of the 40 traps in the Southern Block contained either a wood mouse, yellow-necked field mouse, bank vole, field vole or common shrew every time they were checked, compared with 2-5 captives in the 40 traps in both the Northern and Middle Blocks.
Hedgehogs (known in old Sussex as ‘prickleback urchins’), were missing from Knepp for over a decade. In 2016 we saw our first hedgehog footprints in our hedgehog-monitoring tunnels, and since then they have been spotted frequently, showing signs of a local recovery.
Dormice have been recorded in the woods of the Northern Blocks and, more recently, they have been recorded for the first time in the Southern Block. The pending results of an exciting eDNA project will help us learn more about the dormice in the Southern Block.