Dumfries and Galloway is home to over 45 species of terrestrial mammal, ranging from the Red Deer Cervus elaphus to the Harvest Mouse Micromys minutus. There are those that we may see everyday, such as the Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus whilst others such as Badger Meles meles and Wood Mouse Apodemus sylvaticus are similarly widespread but more difficult to see. In addition to these more common fauna, the region is home to some interesting and distinctive species, such as the Feral Goat Capra hircus, a species that originated from domesticated stock, which can be found in the Southern Uplands with a population on the Cairnsmore of Fleet National Nature Reserve in Kirkcudbrightshire.
The region is home to some nationally important species. This includes the Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris, which is widespread throughout Dumfries and Galloway. The region is thought to hold up to 20% of the Scottish population and is recognised as a Local Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP) priority species. With fur ranging from blonde through red to dark brown, this is the only squirrel native to Britain. The Red Squirrel is found in both conifer forest and broad-leaved woodland. Their dreys (nests) are built of twigs, usually close to the main trunk of the tree and supported by branches. In the last 60 years, its UK population has declined and its range contracted, which has been concurrent with the introduction of the Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis. The larger Greys not only compete for resources but also carry a harmful virus to which the Reds are particularly susceptible. The number of recent records of the Greys in Dumfries and Galloway has grown rapidly and details of sightings should be reported immediately to the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project officer.
Several riparian species, such as the Water Shrew Neomys fodiens and the introduced American Mink Mustela vison, are present, though finding them is tricky and they are best located by their signs. There are two further species of particular local importance. The Water Vole Arvicola terrestis is the UK’s largest vole species. It is rat-sized with a blunt nose, chestnut brown fur, short rounded ears and long hair-covered tail. They are usually found near still or slow-flowing open water such as rivers and ponds with well vegetated banks where they feed on grasses and waterside vegetation. Water Voles have suffered severe population declines both locally and nationally over the last 20 years, leaving surviving populations patchily distributed; most confirmed recent records have come from the west of the region. The Otter Lutra lutra is a secretive semi-aquatic species, with brown fur and a pale underside. The Dumfries and Galloway population is widespread and is regarded as one of the best populations in Scotland. With fish forming a large part of the Otter’s diet, they live along the banks of rivers and lakes, as well as on the Solway Coast, where they can travel over large areas, in some cases covering up to 20km of river habitat. Despite their secretive nature, Otters are now often seen during the day on the River Nith in Dumfries.
The region is home to two species of hare, the Brown Hare Lepus europaeus, which can be found on farmland and rough grazing, and the locally important Mountain Hare Lepus timidus. The Mountain Hare is a native species and occurs widely from the Galloway Hills to the Lammermuirs, although their numbers are thought to have declined in most parts of the Southern Uplands. In the UK, the species is associated with heather moorland, particularly those managed by burning strips for Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus. During the summer months, the pelage is brownish-grey but changes to white in the winter to camouflage the hare during the winter snow.
Dumfries and Galloway is home to all eight species of Scottish bat, some of which are recognised as LBAP priority species. Until recently pipistrelles were considered as only one species, though it is now recognised that there are two distinct common species – Common Pipistrelle Pipistrellus pipistrellus and Soprano Pipistrelle Pipistrellus pygmaeus – which can be separated by the frequency of their echolocation calls. The smallest and most common bats in the UK, pipistrelles occur throughout Dumfries and Galloway, occupying a variety of habitats, including open woodland, parks, marshes and farmland. They roost in different places at different times of year selecting buildings, bat boxes or trees that suit their temperature requirements. The Leisler’s Bat Nyctalus leisleri, or Lesser Noctule, was first recorded in Scotland in 1988, with the majority of records to date from the Kirkcudbrightshire-Wigtownshire border. This species is one of the larger bats in the UK, dwelling primarily in mature trees, using splits and woodpecker holes for roosts, as well as bat boxes. As with the pipistrelles, little is known about this species, though work is underway to increase regional knowledge of their distribution and ecology.
For more information:
The Mammal Society website has free fact sheets on a range of mammal species, covering identification and ecology.
Bat Conservation Trust
Vincent Wildlife Trust
Dumfries and Galloway Bat Group
SUP is registered in Scotland as a company limited by guarantee with charitable status. Registered address: The Southern Uplands Partnership, Studio 2, Lindean Mill, Galashiels, TD1 3PE. Company No. SC200827 / Charity No. SCO29475