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Caithness Field Club Bulletin
Note From Caithness.org - This article is reproduced for completeness and the request was made in 1990 and is NOT therefor current.
OF THE NORTHERN HIGHLANDS
How well do we know our fellow mammals in the Northern Highlands? Apparently, not very well according to the available information.
In 1984 Arnold published a provisional atlas of mammal distribution in the British Isles. This is the most recent work concerning mammals in the north and typically shows large blank areas in the Northern Highlands for many of the species. This is most often due to lack of information and really describes a distribution of records, rather than the true distribution for a mammal. The atlas has limited value on a local scale as distribution is based on the 10 x 10 km square. Within such a square there is a wide range of habitats which may well limit the occurrence of a species.
The Northern Highland Environmental Records Centre has started to correct these limitations by gathering records for all the mammals found in the area. A total of 33 terrestrial mammals have been recorded from within the Northern Highlands and a further 7 marine mammals have been found around our coasts. This represents 57% of the British mammal fauna; some are characteristic of the Scottish Highlands (Scottish Wildcat, Pine Marten) or have their stronghold here (Otter). The survey is to fast initially until 1995 and, if sufficient records have been gathered, it is planned to publish a provisional atlas. A comprehensive publication is not planned until the end of the decade. NHERC would be grateful if readers could send in any mammal records they have from Caithness and Sutherland - no matter how old a record is. A recording form is enclosed for this purpose.
This mammal survey aims to obtain, as near as possible, a true indication of the status of the Northern Highland mammals. As the records are being mapped on a 1 x 1 km square basis, any local variation in a species' range will be picked up and investigated. The results will confirm or dispel frequent quotes like "common everywhere" and "widespread" when there are very few records: many of these statements are based on anecdotal evidence only. One example, is found with the House Mouse "widespread and common" yet no fully documented record existed for Caithness and Fast Sutherland until 1988! Similarly for the "ubiquitous" Wood Mouse.
It has always been believed that three species of bats are found widely throughout the area, yet the records did not support this - showing only a few scant records for the Pipistrelle and Common long-eared bats; it was only recently that NHERC found the third species (Daubenton's) in Caithness and East Sutherland. Bats are certainly sighted more frequently nowadays, but is this due to an expansion in numbers or a greater public awareness? As a member of the Caithness & Sutherland Bat Group, I would be very grateful to hear of any roosts - please do not handle any bat as the law requires a licence to do so.
Certain mammal species, such as Rabbit, Mountain Hare and Water Vole, exhibit black fors: is there a distinct pattern of distribution for these forms? Do all stoats change to ermine every winter and, if so, to what extent? It is hoped that this current survey, with the public's help, will answer these and many more questions concerning our mammal fauna.
Sightings of mammals are only one form of record. Dead animals are of great interest: they provide an excellent opportunity to examine the animal closely for measurements, health, moult patterns, parasites and stomach contents. All this information is of considerable value to a survey such an this. Any mammal, even Rabbit or Mouse, which is in good condition will be most gratefully received.
NHERC and Inverness Museum are jointly studying the House .Mouse in the Highlands and I would be very pleased to receive any of these from deaths due to traps or pet cats. In fact NHERC would be willing to receive any dead vertebrate (not illegally killed) for its museum and to examine as above. Postage will be refunded or I can collect any corpse.
Other forms of records include the tracks, trails and signs left by a mammal. Skeletal remains such as those found in bird of prey pellets and discarded litter are also very valuable. If any reader is interested in finding out more about the signs left by animals; or more information on how they can help with the survey, please contact:
TEL: Thurso 663822