Pawprints and Poo

Spring had well and truly sprung after a record-breakingly warm March when the Worcestershire Mammal Group met for its second survey outing in a chillier April. Despite a worryingly unsettled Saturday seeing rain, sleet and hail threatening to dampen our efforts, a cool but thankfully sunny Sunday prevailed.

With an enticing title like “Pawprints and Poo” its easy to see why so many people couldn’t resist donning their wellies to embark on a short riparian ramble in the Worcestershire countryside to seek out the telltale signs of riverside-dwelling mammals.

After tirelessly scouring the counties’ waterways (thanks Poppy!) Sapey Bridge near Whitbourne was chosen for its soft substrates and ample parking. Sapey Brook is a tributary of the River Teme; a national stronghold during the time when otters almost became extinct in the UK. While our hopes may have been high that we’d find evidence of this elusive mammal thankfully the water wasn’t, so we were able to gain access to some promising  stretches of brook, with previous records from the mid-west of the county suggesting we were in the right area:

Reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. Crown copyright and database right 2016. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100047731

Reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO.
Crown copyright and database right 2016. All rights reserved.
Ordnance Survey Licence number 100047731


Surveying under bridges presents a very different habitat to the open fields of our first outing to Feckenham Wylde Moor, so after Johnny shared his knowledge on what to look for and where to find it the first round of volunteers was split into two groups; one to peer under the bridge, and the other to scour the banks of the busy brook.

Johnny introduces the first group.

Johnny introduces the first group on a bright and sunny Sunday morning. Photo: James Hitchcock.

Seeing good examples of well-chosen photographed mammal signs is one thing, but finding and identifying them whilst simultaneously not falling in the water and disturbing the evidence is a different skill entirely.

Poppy doing an excellent job of maintaining our low participant fatality rate near the water.

Poppy doing an excellent job of maintaining our low water-fatality rate. Photo: James Hitchcock.

Thankfully our dedicated volunteers were soon able to find our first confirmed otter sign, paw prints in the sandy substrate under the bridge:

Two otter paw prints close together

Two otter paw prints close together. Photo: James Hitchcock.

In addition to the otter tracks was what were most likely brown rat prints, even if we were quietly hopeful they might be water vole (we can dream!). Also in attendance were probable moorhen prints, and one eagle-eyed volunteer also found a rare Bristly millipede in amongst the moss on the river bridge, quite a find!

Meanwhile the second group headed off over the nearby field that followed the brook by some more substrate and on up to a weir. Despite some funny looks from some worried-looking sheep (it was Sunday and we were nearly ready for lunch), brown rat prints were found again, as well as a sight of scent marking, again from an otter!

An otter broadcasts its presence to other wildlife.

An otter broadcasts its presence to other wildlife. Photo: James Hitchcock.

Further up towards the weir the second group caught sight of what appeared to be a mammal trail: a thin worn path through the undergrowth up the steep bank…


As the morning group’s session came to a close we were delighted that some of them decided to join us for lunch. Following the mornings’ activities beer and roast beef outdoors had never tasted so good, and we may well have stayed there if not for the afternoon session 🙂

Fewer in number but no less keen, we stayed as a single group and revisited the bridge before heading back up towards the weir. After further investigation Johnny confirmed that it was likely that the mammal trail was from otters, and was able to identify the place at the top of the weir where they probably entered/exited the water:

The place where otters might enter/exit the water.

The place where otters might enter/exit the water. Photo: James Hitchcock.

From there we followed the trail down-river to find some older spraint and a moss-free piece of stone wall where they’d likely made a well-worn path.

Further down and across the brook there was a promising-looking stone sticking out of the water with grass growing on top. On closer inspection it yielded the freshest spraint yet, which we took turns to sniff to try to identify the characteristic sweet-musky smell, often said to be like jasmine tea.

The freshest spraint of the day!

The freshest spraint of the day! Photo: James Hitchcock.

With that the afternoon came to a close, however the end of our second survey session was also the beginning, as many of you raised your hands to help with surveying for mammals near the bridges and waterways of your local patch.

Those that did will have received an email with more information, in particular it’d be useful to know where you plan to survey so we don’t duplicate effort. If you’d like help choosing a site or would just like to let us know where you’re looking please reply to the email or use the contact us page. When you do find something, don’t forget to record it via our records page.

If you didn’t raise your hand, or couldn’t make it on the day, but would still like to help, please check out our riparian survey page and get in touch, we’d love to hear from you!