“Conservation work involves the protection, preservation or restoration of nature and biodiversity, not a task one would immediately associate with Instagram or TikTok. However, more and more we are utilising social media platforms to share ideas and information, organise events and have conversations with one another regarding wildlife and the environment. It’s blending our very primal need to be one with nature with our newly evolved reliance on technology, and in most cases, it is working to the benefit of the natural world.
In the case of releasing endangered captive-bred harvest mice back in Ealing we have Instagram Stories to thank. No, really.
I have followed Dr Sean McCormack and Ealing Wildlife Group on social media for a while. I was inspired by the passion and innovation of both and drawn back each time on my phone by the community spirit and the sharing of wildlife photographs and information.
When Sean posted on his Instagram about a new project to return harvest mice back in a suitable habitat and monitor their population I paused my Netflix show, put my glass of red wine back on the coffee table and furiously began constructing my reply. I had to be involved.
I work as an Animal Keeper and Education Officer at a small zoo in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. We care for a very successful breeding group of harvest mice and had been on the look out for a while for a project to introduce our mice back into the wild, as we were reaching maximum capacity in their enclosure.
We had explored options in the past, but nothing seemed to work out or last. I wanted a project that Calderglen could fully get behind and believe in, and that gave our Scottish mice the best chance at surviving.
After talks with Sean I knew the area chosen for their release and the people involved offered the harvest mice the best chance at restoring a wild population in Ealing. A species that hasn’t been recorded there since the late 1970s. It was time for that to change.
After a couple of months of more conversations and planning with Sean the morning arrived for the long journey down to London. I plucked the fittest mice from the safety of their captivity, clinging unknowingly to their corkscrew hazel branch and silently wished each one good luck as I placed them into the travel box, awaiting a life of freedom only wild animals understand.
It’s not lost on me the control humans have over non-human species and even though in my heart I knew I was doing the right thing for the conservation of harvest mice, looking at each individual twitching face, I also battled with doubt if it was what they would want.
It may seem silly, after all how could a mouse possibly understand the concept of consent and the importance of its little life in the preservation of its entire species, but it certainly picked at my moral compass regardless.
It’s why I take so much comfort in Ealing Wildlife Group’s project because out of the many that have been reviewed by Calderglen this one surpassed expectation.
It was a lovely evening when I met with members and volunteers of Ealing Wildlife Group and I quickly felt I was with ‘my people’. Our enthusiasm and passion kept the chat flowing as the sun started to dip and the smiles and laughs just got wider and louder even after we stopped recording videos on our phones. Everyone was excited to be there, everyone wished for the success of the project, and everyone believed it was the right thing to do to give back to nature.
We let Calderglen’s mice go in thickets of grass and flowers, with a small shelter and some food left behind for a short-term resource if they should need it. I watched one particular brown and white fuzzy ball dart immediately from the travel box and wind its way gracefully into the foliage.
A bubble of emotion rose in my throat as I again wished it a silent good luck. As I uploaded the video to my Instagram with the caption ‘They’re free!’ and watched the mouse get lost behind stalks of green and fade from view, my doubts vanished. The harvest mice were home. “
Animal Keeper and Education Officer
(All photo credits to Council ranger James Morton, who accompanied us on this release alongside fellow ranger Jon Staples to whom we are grateful for collaborating on this project)
We’re very excited to be partnering with Battersea Children’s Zoo and their sister zoo, New Forest Wildlife Park, both of which will be providing us with captive bred harvest mice to release in Ealing over the coming years. I recently visited Battersea and was astounded by their beautiful Harvest Mouse exhibit, which showcases just how busy (and adorable) these little mice are. Here’s what Head Keeper, Jamie Baker, has to say about the partnership:
“Battersea Park Children’s Zoo has always championed British native species. Alongside our conservation work with other BIAZA and EAZA facilities on European Endangered Species breeding programmes we have always worked to put our own native species at the forefront of our work. As one of most successful zoos working with the Scottish wildcat breeding programme, producing 5 kittens over the last couple of years, we also collaborate on reintroduction projects for native hedgehogs and of course, Eurasian harvest mice, which are increasingly threatened in Britain.
We currently have one of the largest harvest mouse exhibits in the country and actively breed mice at the zoo before transferring them to reintroduction projects up and down the country. Education is key in providing a future for our native species, so our dedicated harvest mouse barn is a great opportunity for our yearly 8500 school children to connect with these relatively unheard of creatures.
We are excited to have struck a new partnership with Ealing Wildlife Group and can’t wait to shine a light on their amazing work to restore wild places in London and reintroduce native species. Our curator Jason and head keepers Jamie and Charlotte had the pleasure of welcoming Sean to the zoo recently to discuss our joint passion for harvest mouse conservation and we look forward to providing captive bred harvest mice to Ealing Wildlife Group’s upcoming release projects. Joining forces to rewild some amazing habitats in West London.”
The team at Battersea and New Forest are also keen to come help us survey for harvest mice to monitor how well the reintroduction project is going over the coming years. There will also be opportunities for volunteers to help with this important work. Exciting times!
We’ve recently kicked off our ‘Rewilding Ealing’ initiative with the reintroduction of locally extinct and nationally threatened species, the diminutive Harvest Mouse. Also known by its scientific name of Micromys minutus, or the ‘minute micro mouse’, it’s the UK and Europe’s smallest rodent, and the only one with a prehensile tail designed to cling to the finest of grass stalks and vegetation as it climbs.
Last year we outlined the aims, preliminary survey work and preparations for the project in a live webinar, a recording is available to watch here:
We were thrilled with the reaction to our crowdfunding campaign, helping us to raise funds to source mice in large numbers for release and also allowing us to buy equipment and housing for our very own captive breeding facility. We asked our community of wildlife fans to sponsor a mouse for £10 and reached our target within days. The crowdfunder, which is still open to donations to support our borough-wide conservation efforts, can be found here:
We’ve partnered with Calderglen Zoo in East Kilbride near Glasgow who has been breeding Harvest Mice, and a few weeks ago delivered our very first mice to be released as well as to form the foundation of our own captive breeding colony.
And since the initial release we’ve had quite a bit of interest and coverage including BBC London and Scotland news. Check out the release and see these amazing little rodents being set free into the wild after a potential absence of 30-40 years from our borough here:
(Featured image: James Morton)
For immediate release
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Group reintroduces the threatened Harvest Mouse back to London!
Harvest Mice are set to be released in a new location in London by a local community group in Ealing, West London – bringing the rodents back to the area for the first time in decades.
Harvest Mice are Britain and Europe’s smallest rodents, and, in recent decades, these miniature mammals have undergone rapid declines due to changes in land management nationwide. The mice live mainly in grassland areas and eat seeds, fruit and invertebrates and build their spherical nests high up in tall grasses.
Reinstating the harvest mouse population is important for a number of reasons but, most significantly, their presence in the Ealing area can support the wider food chain and will be a welcome addition for Ealing’s growing populations of birds of prey including Barn Owls, Kestrels and Little Owls.
Local community group, Ealing Wildlife Group (EWG) are behind the project. EWG is focused on bringing nature back to urban areas and have spearheaded a number of other successful projects in the area including driving the increase in bird of prey species nesting in the borough.
In order to release the Harvest Mice, Ealing Wildlife Group (EWG) successfully crowdfunded their project to purchase hundreds of captive-bred mice from one of the UK’s leading rewilding experts and set up small breeding colonies of their own. The plan is to release the mice into the wild over the next couple of years.
Sean McCormack, Chair of local conservation community Ealing Wildlife Group (EWG), believes that communities and councils can work together to create suitable space for nature, and the Harvest Mice reintroduction project is just the latest in a long line of projects being spearheaded by EWG. Dr McCormack said:
“After extensive surveying of likely locations in Ealing, we believe Harvest Mice are locally extinct here due to historic habitat loss and fragmentation. Over the last few years however, there has been an effort to manage some of Ealing’s green spaces more sympathetically for nature. What this has done has enabled several sites within the borough to now have habitats suited to the reintroduction of Harvest Mice.”
After holding a webinar with the local community to outline the details of the project, McCormack set up a crowdfunding page to help fund the reintroduction – asking funders to ‘sponsor’ a mouse for £10. The money raised will go to buying mice from a responsible breeder, one who supplies many rewilding projects with rare and threatened native wildlife, plus equipment for setting up some small breeding colonies of their own – enabling EWG to continue releasing mice into the wild in Ealing over the next couple of years.
EWG is also partnering with a number of conservation organisations already breeding Harvest Mice including Calderglen Zoo in East Kilbride near Glasgow, who have supplied the first cohort of mice to have been set free into the wild in Ealing.
EWG will also spend an extra £500 on Longworth live mammal traps, enabling the harmless monitoring of small mammal populations in Ealing. This monitoring will ensure the habitat management continues to be successful and that populations of the harvest mice, as well as other small mammals such as voles and shrews, can continue to thrive for years to come.
Fundraising has been incredibly successful and the £2,500 target was hit within days of set up however, if you would like to contribute to this exciting urban rewilding project, you can find the Harvest Mice Reintroduction page here.
If you would like to watch the Harvest Mouse webinar to hear more about this exciting project, you can find it on YouTube: youtube.com/c/EalingWildlifeGroup/
About Dr Sean McCormack
Sean McCormack, vet and Chair of the local conservation community Ealing Wildlife Group is passionate about nature and biodiversity. He has a large Instagram following and offers content across a variety of topics (animal welfare, biodiversity and allotmenting). He also showcases some of EWG’s practical conservation projects on their highly subscribed YouTube channel. Sean hosts the popular podcast ‘Sean’s Wild Life’ talking to relevant experts and celebrity guests to explore topics in nature conservation, rewilding, sustainability and our connections to nature.
EWG is an inclusive community of locals interested in nature and wildlife in the Borough of Ealing and beyond. Set up in early 2016 by Sean McCormack, a vet and lifelong naturalist, the overall aim of the group is to build a community of like-minded individuals, who are passionate to learn more about nature and who see the value in actively conserving it. Since 2016 it has grown steadily in membership and secured funding for several community environmental projects. The main hub of activity and discussion remains the Facebook group, where members can truly appreciate the diversity of wildness on our doorstep through others’ observations and posts.
We have been busy behind the scenes scoping out the habitats, logistics and feasibility considerations for reintroducing Harvest Mice to Ealing. This tiny rodent species has declined significantly nationwide in recent decades, and we believe after much surveying in suitable habitats that it is locally extinct. For more context on Harvest Mice and the project you can watch our kick off meeting here:
As with any reintroduction project, there are ethical and practical procedures and guidelines to follow so as not to:
cause harm to the local ecosystem
cause welfare issues with the reintroduced species or others in the local environment
cause socio-economic harm or concerns
introduce disease into natural ecosystems
We have reviewed DEFRA’s newly released codes and guidance for reintroductions and other conservation translocations. And we feel we have satisfied the requirements as well as carried out the appropriate surveying and preparations needed to justify and carry out a successful reintroduction programme. We’ve also consulted with previous Harvest Mouse reintroduction project managers and rewilding experts who advised us that we have the suitable, sustainable and connected habitat to bring back this lost species again. More info on the codes and guidance can be found here:
So what’s next and where are our mice coming from? Well, we’ve teamed up with a zoo and country park in Scotland who maintain a large colony of harvest mice and want to collaborate with us on an in-situ reintroduction and conservation project for the species in their natural habitat. We’re also working with renowned rewilding advocate and expert, Derek Gow and his team, who are supplying us with captive bred mice for mass release and to start our own ongoing captive breeding programme.
And we cannot thank you, our supporters, enough for donating to fund the project by sponsoring a mouse (or many mice in some cases!). It’s a project which has obviously captured the public imagination, and it has also attracted some media attention (watch this space!). We hope to start releasing mice as early as July and September this year, and hope to have some of you along to see ‘your’ mice return to the wild. The crowdfunding was a great success, and is still open for donation to support ongoing costs of the project if you wish to sponsor a mouse for just £10.
This Friday Dec 4th at 8pm, join Sean McCormack for an online discussion about a potential reintroduction project of Harvest Mice in Ealing. We’ll be exploring whether we have Europe’s smallest rodent species in the Borough, how we might find out with some help from our members, whether we still have suitable habitat and why such a project might be beneficial to people and biodiversity.
This is hopefully the first in a series of talks exploring rewilding and nature conservation in Ealing.
There are 100 spaces; first come, first served. Please do join live so you can take part in the Q&A afterwards. A recording of the session will be posted after for those who missed the live event.
The meeting will be on Zoom, details as follows:
Ealing Wildlife Group is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
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