2013 has been a big year for our flagship reserve at Parc Slip near Bridgend; the long-awaited re-opening of the renovated Visitor Centre with its beautiful coffee shop has gone down very well with locals and visitors alike but there have also been exciting developments on the wildlife front too!
A few months ago, while installing a new fence around one of the ponds at the reserve, we were lucky enough to find a fresh otter spraint on a nearby log. Despite Parc Slip having suitable habitat for this enigmatic species, there has never been signs of one here before now.
Otters are one of Britain’s largest carnivores and have made an amazing comeback in recent years, following the banning of certain pesticides and the end of otter hunting in the 60s and 70s. They are often secretive and the best way of identifying their presence is to find characteristic field signs such as their spraints (faeces) which are small, black and have a surprisingly pleasant odour when fresh. The spraints are found at prominent positions throughout an animal’s extensive range such as the location at Parc Slip.
Following this discovery, we placed motion-sensitive cameras at strategic locations around the reserve in the hope of catching a glimpse of this beautiful animal. It is likely that the otter is passing through Parc Slip as it travels along its territory and taking advantage of the spawning amphibians as a food source.
After a couple of fruitless weeks we recently managed to get footage of the otter en route to one of the ponds on site.
Otters are a ‘European Protected Species’ which means they are afforded full statutory protection under both UK and EU legislation. Under this level of protection, the habitats that support them are also protected.
Another species that is afforded this status is the hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), a distinctive and attractive nocturnal rodent with sandy coat and a thick furry tail. Dormice spend up to seven months of the year hibernating and are small, nocturnal and tree-living so are consequently rarely seen. They are patchily distributed throughout the south and west of Britain and in Wales they are threatened and restricted to a few strongholds.
Despite being known as hazel dormice, they are not reliant on this species but use a range of species such as hawthorn, honeysuckle and bramble to get the high quality nectar, fruits and insects that they require. They prefer to inhabit areas with a range of tree species and a good shrub layer as this provides a range of food sources throughout their active period.
We were aware of dormice having been found at nearby Bedford Park but we weren’t aware of them being present at Parc Slip. Recently we decided to put up some specialist dormouse nest boxes to try to assess whether they had spread to the reserve and while doing so we managed to find a classic dormouse field sign – a chewed hazelnut! They have a distinctive way of eating a hazelnut compared to other species such as woodmice or bank voles.
We can confidently say that we have dormice and otters at Parc Slip! Not bad for a site that was an opencast mine in the not-too distant past. We will monitor the nest boxes in order to map where dormice are at Parc Slip and report back when we get some results…