Rural Dorset vs. Urban Manchester: Wildlife Camera Trapping in 2021

Series in collaboration with guest writer Emma Rogan

Fox cubs playing in secluded hedgerows, badgers wandering along field margins, and male pheasants displaying in woodlands. Wildlife cameras are a great way to capture the behaviour and presence of wildlife, and can open up a hidden world not so easily accessible in person. More often wildlife cameras are associated with exploring the rural, but they are also a great way to explore the world closer to home. Hedgehogs snuffling through gardens looking for food, birds jostling for space on feeders, or even rodents clearing up after avian visitors. Camera trapping allows us to connect to nature wherever we live, from rolling hills to suburban oases.

Last time in Rural vs. Urban, we embraced autumn in all its colours and forms, with the main focus being the plant and fungi stars of the show. Dorset-born naturalist Laura delved into the magnificent and colourful display autumn had to offer, and found inspiration in the season, from her writing to her baking. Joining Laura for this series, Manchester-born wildlife enthusiast Emma explored the history and culture rooted in the plants she discovered, and found a much-needed moment of calm in her busy day-to-day life. Though both found differences in their comparative landscapes, they both found fungi to be fascinating and wondrous, but an area of knowledge in need of improvement.

In this next instalment of Rural vs. Urban, we explore the use of camera traps in the two different landscapes and see how they have allowed Laura and Emma to connect with their local wildlife. We will see how species may differ between the city and countryside, as well as behaviours and even interactions between species. It will be interesting to see what we may learn from looking back at fantastic camera trap photos from both locations, as they help us to uncover the secret lives of wildlife. Join us on our adventures to find out what we discovered!

Laura’s Camera Trapping in Dorset

Over the last few years I have become well known online for my camera trap photos exploring the lives of the wildlife living on my family’s land in Dorset. In particular, each spring I keep my camera trap out 24/7, moving it between locations, to capture spring unfurling for my animal neighbours. By doing so I have gained a lot of enjoyment from seeing what I could discover, and have been able to expand my own knowledge of my local wildlife and their hidden lives. To experience some of my previous camera trap adventures, check out my earlier blog posts from 2019 and 2020.

Last year, in 2021, my camera trap did not fail to amaze me and allowed me to continue my adventure exploring and capturing local wildlife. Throughout the spring my camera moved between 6 different locations across 250 acres, varying from badger setts to woodland. Between these locations I captured a total of 13 different species in 2021, which were rabbit, badger, roe deer, fox, partridge, pheasant, grey squirrel, magpie, blackbird, field vole, hare, woodpigeon, and the humble bumblebee.

One of my highlights from 2021 was capturing some new species for my collection, even if my first photos of them were blurry . These included my first hare (or the back of one!), a field vole climbing up cow parsley stalks, and even a bumblebee buzzing about. This is one of the reasons I get excited when checking my camera trap photos, as you never know what you may discover!

Another part of camera trapping in 2021 was getting to further experience animal species living side by side in harmony. For example, at one badger sett I saw a family of badgers sharing their home with rabbits and a family of foxes. Also, at another location, I got to see fox cubs learning about their surroundings and interacting with other species, such as roe deer. Very cool!

One of my favourite parts of 2021 though, has to be all the fox families I discovered! During this year, the most commonly seen species on my camera trap, to my surprise, was the fox (at every location!). In some cases I specifically aimed to capture this species, such as staking out a possible fox den, but in others foxes just happened to be living there or passing through. So by the end of spring, I had discovered 3 litters of fox cubs and a number of frequently used fox trails. What was most special of all was getting to experience fox cubs exploring their natural habitat and interacting with each other without me disturbing them. Magical!

After camera trapping in spring, my camera trap was given a well earned break until November. To round off the year, I staked out my garden to check out the birds that call it home. To find out more, stay tuned for next week’s blog post!

Emma’s Camera Trapping in Manchester

Although the past two years have been strange and sad in many ways, my little rectangle of garden has been a constant source of joy. During the first lockdown I started to spend a lot more time in the garden, which made me curious about the lives of the insects, birds, squirrels and foxes that also call our garden their home. So, in December 2020, I got my first wildlife camera!

The first time I left my camera out overnight, I was delighted to have captured a variety of animals including squirrels, the neighbour’s cat and a fox. It’s far from unusual to spot a fox late at night in my area, but something about seeing a fox going about its usually secret business made this sighting feel special. “I got a fox!” I yelled excitedly down the stairs. From that point onwards, I had caught the camera trapping bug.

Camera trapping has allowed me to get to know the unique personalities of our garden visitors, and also to see how their behaviour towards us changed over time. Our lovely Mrs Blackbird used to wait until we’d gone back inside before she’d sneak up the side of the garden to eat her evening plate of mealworms, but now she feels brave enough to hop around the empty plate chirping indignantly until someone gets the message. We also realised that Mr and Mrs Blackbird would always come for their dinner one at a time, and would only eat half the plate each! Now that’s true love.

My most exciting capture came on an equally exciting day. On the morning of the day I was due to get my Professional level ACA results, I checked my camera and was amazed to see that a badger had stopped by for a drink! The badger must have brought good luck with him, as thankfully I passed the exams. I was also delighted to see a hedgehog wandering through my boyfriend’s garden one night. We named him Podge, and for a while he was an extremely cute regular visitor. Finally, I can’t talk about camera trapping without mentioning my love for our magpies, who have kept us well entertained all year swaggering around the garden and stealing all the snacks we put out!

One thing I’ve learned from my experience camera trapping this year is that although cities may be full of people, we have a huge variety of wildlife roaming around just outside our front doors. I hope that more people will feel inspired to get to know the wild visitors passing through their streets and gardens, and even leave out some food and water to make them feel welcome!

The Wonders of Camera Trapping

Camera trapping is a learning experience and an eye-opening adventure, providing an unedited and up-close view of the more secretive lives of our wild neighbours. For Laura, camera trapping in 2021 continued to expand her record and understanding of the animals that call her local area home. Moving forward she would like to begin collecting videos of her local wildlife and buy a new camera trap to expand her camera trapping efforts.

Giving nature a home is something every one of us can do. For Emma, camera trapping taught her that even a small green space in an urban landscape can support a huge variety of wildlife; bees, badgers, woodpeckers, nuthatches, squirrels, hedgehogs and many more! In 2022, Emma wants to make her garden a haven for wildlife, and hopefully capture a frog moving into the frog pond she and her mum built.

At a time when nature is struggling most, it is important for us all to do our bit. Sometimes it is difficult to know how, but if you can understand your local patch better, this can become a lot easier. Using a camera trap is a great and easy way to do this, allowing you to create that connection with your local wildlife, however big or small. If you would like to know more or are inspired to try it out yourself, check out Laura’s blog post about ‘How to… Use and Make the Most of a Camera Trap‘.

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