Sniffer dog joins Moulton College research team to track elusive harvest mouse

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A new study to track the movement of harvest mice using a sniffer dog has been launched by a researcher at Moulton College.

Emily Howard-Williams is leading a team of experts to find out more about one of the most elusive, and smallest, mammals in the country. Finding their tell-tale signs can be difficult and time-consuming and it has proved very difficult to determine an accurate picture of their current numbers.

Ms Howard-Williams has been awarded a grant by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species to train Tui, a flat-coated retriever to learn to detect the scent of harvest mice, making tracking their presence in the countryside easier and more efficient.

Typically found in cereal fields, reed beds and hedgerows, PTES believes that harvest mice have declined in the past 40 years as a result of changes to farming practices and habitat management. To date there have been no reliable studies to quantify this change, and it is unclear as to exactly how many are currently left in the UK. With the help of Tui, who was bred from working gun dogs, Ms Howard-Williams’s team hopes to shed some light on one of the most iconic species of the British countryside.

She said: “The harvest mouse appears to have undergone significant declines in parts of the countryside, partly in response to the intensification of modern agriculture, but also due to habitat loss. Yet it still remains difficult to ascertain just how many there really are.

“The funding from PTES will help to train our resident harvest mouse detector dog, enabling us to determine whether using sniffer dogs is the best approach in tracking these creatures!”

Picture: Ben Andrew

Picture: Ben Andrew

Nida Al-Fulaij, grants manager from PTES, added: “We all know that dogs have an amazing sense of smell.

“The UK enlists the help of sniffer dogs at airports, music festivals and in the army, so why not also use them for conservation purposes to find harvest mice.

“The trained eye may miss a harvest mouse nest, but a trained nose is much more likely to pick up on a familiar scent and alert the handler to the presence of recent harvest mice activity in that area.

“We are very excited to be funding this project and look forward to seeing what results reveal about harvest mice populations in the UK.”

Picture: Ben Andrew

Picture: Ben Andrew

Picture: Mark Hows

Picture: Mark Hows