Mammal Month

What a month! It’s usually birds that take up most of my camera’s memory card, but over the past few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to get some fantastic mammal sightings, including the second rarest carnivore in Britain…


Recently I visited a friend’s private hide. I arrived at 2:30pm and enjoyed squirrels, siskins and jays. Seven hours later, I glanced up and saw this badger approaching the clearing. You know that jolt in your chest when you see something absolutely incredible and rush to get your camera ready but your hands seem to move at half speed? That was me. Luckily this little one was in a meandering mood and took its time snuffling along the grass towards me. Obviously I kept as quiet and still as I could (despite the manic joy) but it still glanced over at me. There’s no fooling wildlife!

Roe deer

Roe deer prefer the seclusion and shelter of trees. Although they meander into open fields, they rarely stray far from the woodland edge. They are associated with Cernunnos, a Celtic horned god of wild animals and fertility. Deer were thought to have the power to pass to and from the Otherworld! Their antlers, shed each year, represent rebirth and rejuvenation. I saw this gorgeous buck from the same hide as the badger, which allowed me to get such intimate views. For me they’re one of Britain’s most magical creatures.


I’d been filming seals hauled out on the beach but there were some very grumbly clouds heading my way so I quickly packed up and hurried back to the car. Just beyond the sand was a dense area of gorse so as I walked I kept an eye out for stonechats and linnets. But instead I spotted a rabbit feeding out in the open. I was just marvelling over how darn cute he or she was when something caught my eye and this bundle of perfection appeared at the mouth of the warren. I’ve never seen a baby rabbit before and it was just as eye wateringly cute as I imagined. As a result of me stopping to take these photos I got caught in an absolute downpour before I made it back to the car, but getting soggy was totally worth it.

Red squirrel

I haven’t posted a squirrel photo since January so this is way overdue! I’d just enjoyed a swelteringly hot day in the Cairngorms. Aviemore was swarming with tourists so I made a hasty retreat back home. On the way I popped into my all-time favourite forest. It’s the sort of place you can get hopelessly and wonderfully lost in. I was tired and hungry after a long day but I thought I’d have a quick wander in case I spotted a squirrel. I walked for less than five minutes before I heard a crunching to my left and turned to see this little cutie at eye level, positively glowing in the sun. It was one of those right place right time moments.

Pine marten

Although I wish I could open my window and draw in all the animals with my angelic singing (while a pie cools on the windowsill), I’m not actually Snow White and the real world isn’t like that. For certain creatures, a little more effort has to be put in and a hide is the only way to go!
The pine marten belongs to the mustelid family with stoats, weasels and otters. They’re Britain’s second rarest carnivore after the Scottish wildcat, making them (in my view) as special as unicorns. I’ve been lucky enough to see them twice in the past, but both times were in the dark so photos were impossible.
Recently I achieved a huge goal of mine and got my first images of a pine marten! Despite their leisurely-looking lollop, these cat-sized animals shift at a fair pace. Luckily I managed to catch this lovely female running straight towards the hide.

Since posting this photo on Instagram, I was approached by Countryfile who then shared it on their account! I was incredibly chuffed.

November Wildlife

In November, many mammals are preparing for hibernation while some new faces are arriving on the scene. In the latest instalment of my monthly series for Bloom in Doom magazine, I’ve shared some of the British wildlife highlights that can be seen during November.


Winter is an excellent time for birders because of all the overwintering geese, ducks and waders that have arrived. It is thought that around 50,000 barnacle geese travel from as far away as Russia to reach our shores, which may seem chilly but are far warmer in comparison!

All those birds attract the attention of raptors, so also keep an eye out for peregrine falcons and harriers which are looking for a possible meal. Short-eared owls also travel south for winter and are often seen near the coast. 

A flock of knot flying along the shore
A recuperating hedgehog at Hornbeam Wood Hedgehog Sanctuary


Many mammals are now looking to start their hibernation in November, including our special but now scarce hedgehogs. They search for large piles of branches and leaves, which sadly often include bonfires. Please always check bonfires for hibernating hedgehogs – the best thing to do is build it just before you light it. Also, it’s a good idea to leave fallen leaves on the ground instead of raking them up because they provide important hedgehog nesting material.

In November there are usually lots of baby hedgehogs handed in to wildlife rescue centres because they are born late and therefore too small to survive hibernation. For more information on what to do if you find an injured hedgehog, check out this link.


November is usually the peak of the salmon run – a dramatic and impressive feat. Mature fish are swimming upriver from the Atlantic to their spawning grounds, having waited in estuaries for the rains that raised the water levels enough to allow them to travel back to where they were born.

As if leaping several metres into the air to pass thundering water wasn’t impressive enough, during this time the salmon don’t feed at all and concentrate solely on their mission to breed.

October Wildlife


From this month until November, look out for flocks of winter thrushes as they move south. Fieldfares are similar to the more common song thrush but have slate grey and chestnut colouring rather than warm brown. Redwings are easy to identify because they have a patch of red beneath each of their wings. These birds have bred in Iceland and Scandinavia and are now feasting on berries in large groups.  


With winter looming, many mammals are busy caching food and building up fat reserves to see them through the cold season. Hazelnuts are now ripening so look out for squirrels as they forage and horde away their finds for when food is less abundant. As well as hazelnuts, red squirrels feed on seeds from many different trees including pine, larch and spruce. Their diet also consists of fungi, fruits and even birds’ eggs if they get the opportunity.

As wildlife spectacles go, the red deer rut has got to be one of the most dramatic. Every October, stags battle it out with each other for the right to breed with a harem of females, or hinds. During August and September, stags have been developing thicker necks and shaggy manes in preparation for the rut. While clashing antlers is common, on many occasions rival males will walk alongside each other to gauge their opponent’s strength. It is best to watch the red deer rut during early morning or evening, but be careful not to get too close. Watch safely from a respectful distance and enjoy the sights and sounds of Britain’s largest land mammals as they breed.

If you’d like to see the red deer rut this autumn, check out this Countryfile article for some ideas of places to visit.

Red Deer

Fungi and Flora

Head to the woods this month to see lots more fungi. With more wet weather, fungal fruiting bodies of all shapes and sizes will be emerging. Interestingly, the visible body above ground is only a tiny fraction of the whole fungus – many metres of filaments known as hyphae spread out below the soil and are extremely beneficial for breaking down leaf litter and dead animals. Look for fungi on rotting wood, in particular fallen trees and sodden stumps. You may need to get lower down to see some of the daintier varieties, but in many areas they’re very obvious. Some fungus families grow in circles, which are known as ‘fairy rings’ and increase in diameter as the fungus ages.

This piece was originally published on Bloom in Doom as part of my role as Nature Editor.

A Prickly Afternoon

I arrived at the Hornbeam Wood Hedgehog Sanctuary half an hour early just in case I got lost. They purposely don’t advertise their exact location online, as is often the way with small wildlife charities. Luckily, just as I was cruising along a rather featureless country lane and beginning to think I was in completely the wrong place, I saw a man in a van with “Hornbeam Wood Hedgehog Sanctuary” plastered on the side.

Hedgehogs are one of those creatures that have slipped through my radar for some reason. I’ve only seen a handful of live ones my whole life, and as they’re nocturnal and not particularly attention seeking, I didn’t know a great deal about them. So, when I saw an advert on the Hertfordshire Wildlife Trust website about learning more about hedgehogs at a sanctuary only a few miles from where I lived, I was keen for the opportunity.

Martin, the man in the van, is the only permanent person working at the sanctuary, and all as a volunteer. At peak times during the year, there can be as many as 80 hedgehogs at the site with six new patients a day, but usually there are around 40 animals, which is still a huge commitment. In the intensive care barn, where the hoglets and “pinkies” (hogs only a few days old) are kept, there are feedings every two hours. The majority of hedgehogs that arrive are dehydrated or injured by foxes, dogs or traps. If a back leg is injured, or even amputated, the animal can still be released. Equally, a hog that is blind in one eye can also return to the wild, but a completely blind animal requires an enclosed garden to keep them safe from predation.

Temperature is vitally important for hedgehogs. Hoglets cannot generate their own heat so will die if abandoned by or separated from their mother. Hibernation among adults is dependent on temperature and so the timing can vary year on year. Usually if the temperature falls to around 5°C they will find a secluded space, slow their breathing right down and curl up into their signature ball. A hedgehog’s quills, sometimes reaching as many as 7000 in number, are primarily used as defence, but they also provide a helping hand in ensnaring tangled leaves and wild materials around the hog as added insulation.

Martin showing us around “Hog Hotel”

Sadly, hedgehog numbers have declined rapidly in recent years, down 50% in rural areas and a third in towns and cities. There are now thought to be fewer than one million hedgehogs left in the UK. That may sound like a lot, but in the 1950s there were rough estimates of around 30 million individuals. The reasons for such a drastic drop are numerous, ranging from intensive farming methods that rotate fields more often, reduced hedgerows, pesticides and fewer water sources. That’s just in the countryside. In urban environments, hedgehogs are threatened by the use of slug pellets, abandoned plastic and an increase in impregnable fences and walls that prevent wandering hogs from passing through.

Of course, there are ways we can help. Providing jelly-based cat and dog food or dried food specifically for hedgehogs provides much-needed nutrition. Contrary to the once popular belief, hedgehogs should never be fed bread or milk as they are lactose intolerant and this would seriously harm them. Another important garden addition is access to water, especially as most of the rescue hogs Martin receives are dehydrated.

For more indirect help, make your garden a haven for insects by planting wildflowers and fruit trees, and the insectivorous hogs will have a more plentiful food supply. To prevent any casualties, install ramps in ponds to help a soggy hog clamber out – although they can float and swim well, they sometimes drown from exhaustion after getting stuck in the water. And finally, make sure to always check for hedgehogs in compost heaps and bonfires before using them. A simple nudge with a broomstick will stir a hedgehog and give them sufficient warning to leave, although with bonfires it is always best to rebuild them elsewhere before lighting.

As a wonderful end to a thoroughly informative talk, Martin showed us Hog Hotel where a lot of his patients were kept. We were allowed to meet one, Rock, up close and personal. Not quite adult size, Rock fit snugly in the cup of Martin’s gloved hand and pointed his twitching nose up at us.


As hedgehogs are naturally wary of exposing their vulnerable undersides, it’s difficult to sex them. Martin explained that the best way was to find a small dimple amongst their fur. If it is around halfway up the stomach, it is a male. If it is further back towards the rear, it is a female.

Rock explored his surroundings for a while, while Martin stood poised ready in case the hog made a mad dash across the table. Getting to see a live hedgehog so closely was such a privilege. As I watched Rock, I realised I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen one in the wild. Like many of our native British species, hedgehogs are in trouble and it’s so important that we help them in any way we can. People like Martin give up full days of their time. I know I can definitely give up five minutes to put trays of water and cat food in the garden.

If you find a sick or injured hedgehog, the first thing to do before intervening is to contact the British Hedgehog Preservation Society to get expert advice. 

This fantastic event was hosted by the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust. To find out about future events, visit their website.


The Red Rut

As the mornings grow gradually colder, signs of autumn such as emerging fungi, clusters of conkers and grass crunchy with frost can now be seen. A seasonal highlight among wildlife during this colourful season is the deer rut, where red stags and roe bucks compete with each other for the right to breed with hinds and does respectively.

The deer rut is regarded as one of British wildlife’s most impressive spectacles, especially that of the red deer – the UK’s largest land mammal, reaching over one metre at the shoulder. From late September to early November, testosterone-charged stags spend many weeks bellowing at dawn and dusk in an attempt to ward off rivals and also to bring hinds into heat (oestrus). They will often thrash in vegetation, gathering foliage into their antlers to increase their size. A slightly less glamorous habit is wallowing in their own urine. This olfactory stimulus also triggers oestrus among the females.

If two stags are equally matched, they will parallel walk alongside each other to assess size and strength. Stags will also clash antlers and shove each other – the victor of these battles will claim his harem of females and win mating rights. Due to its high risk of injury, physical contact is often only a last resort, carried out towards the end of the rut when the dominant male is near exhaustion. The rut is a huge physical drain for stags and they can lose up to 20% of their body weight as a result of being on constant guard of their harem and therefore not eating or resting.

A red stag grazing in Woburn Abbey Deer Park earlier this month – in a few weeks’ time his strength and endurance will be put to the test to win a harem of females

If watching red deer during the rutting season, it’s important to take care and keep a respectable distance. Stags can be aggressive and unpredictable, so it is essential not to get too close when watching the event. This autumn I would love to witness my first red deer rut. After my incredible encounter with a roe deer at Tring Park recently, I’m keen to continue learning about these often under-appreciated animals and witness more of their natural behaviour out in the field. While many good spots for deer rutting are in the wilds of Scotland, more accessible locations include Richmond Park, where over six hundred deer can be found.

The usual suspect, work, has meant that I’ve only managed to snatch the occasional walk outside in nature over the past few weeks.  It’s been a while since I’ve been up with the dawn for a wildlife watch and it’s high time I got back into it. For the deer rut especially, it’s the early bird that gets the reward. 

Weekend Seal Hunt

On Saturday, two of my friends from first year and I met up with some second and third year Wildlife Media students to visit South Walney Nature Reserve in Barrow-in-Furness. The plan was to find seals. Deep down, we suspected the mission might be fruitless, but we wildlife students are nothing if not determined.


The challenges began before we’d even left the car. Due to the high tide, the main road to the island had been completely cut off. After some gentle persuasion, we managed to get permission to park on the caravan site and walk the rest of the way to the beach. The wind was howling and it took all our strength just to stay on our feet, but eventually we arrived at the hide, fingers already numb from the cold.

We were entertained by a group of oystercatchers for a while, closely packed together in an attempt to stay warm. A lone rabbit foraged in the grass, then bolted when the hide door slammed. Of seals, there was nothing.

Eventually, we could feel our hands again, so my friend and I decided to abandon the hide and head down to the beach. That was a pretty good decision. In moments, a grey seal popped up, blinking at us with his huge black eyes. Giddy with excitement, we crouched down and began to snap away furiously. Then suddenly, where there had been a single seal, there were now two, bobbing up and down as the waves rolled over them. I decided to get a higher vantage point, and perched up on the stone with my knees as a makeshift tripod. The seals weren’t bothered in the slightest, and continued to sneak peaks at us as we photographed them.


Gulls circled overhead, struggling to stay airborne in the wind. Below them, more and more seals braved the surface, until a group of five were taking it in turns to have a look at these strange visitors. We’d heard news that a pup had been born that very morning, so the seals were performing beautifully considering that there was a new member of the family to look after.


After a while the seals dispersed, and we felt ecstatic that we’d got so close to such private and timid animals. We were just about to head back to the hide and warm up again when we heard a commotion in the water. We were amazed to see a dogfish writhing on the sand, kicking up a torrent of seawater. After taking a few quick photos, we helped it back into the sea.


This dogfish was immediately replaced by two more. After freeing these two in turn, we wondered whether the fish had beached themselves on purpose. It seemed strange that three would reach the shallows just in the short time we were sat watching.


Another highlight (as if seals and dogfish weren’t enough!) were the jellyfish dotted on the beach, which looked more like spaceships than living creatures. I’ve seen jellyfish on Scottish beaches, but these individuals were magnificent in comparison.


Before long it was getting dark, so we struggled back to the car, bent against the wind. I hadn’t even counted on seeing seals on our visit to South Walney, when in fact we saw plenty, as well as three performing dogfish and some spectacular jellies!