Think you know what wildlife lives near you? Think again. Chances are, there’s a lot more out there then you realise! In fact, most wildlife is pretty elusive and will go undetected in front of your eyes and ears. In the UK, we have a whole host of interesting mammals that we only bump into once in a while – badgers, hedgehogs, stoats, weasels, bats, deer, and more – but that’s not to say they aren’t there. The same applies around the world; head to a rainforest, one of the planet’s most biodiverse ecosystems and you’ll be lucky to catch a glimpse of a handful of animals.
Intrigued to know what creatures live near you? Enter, the humble camera trap…
EXPLORE YOUR SURROUNDINGS
Since the global lockdown took place in 2020, it seems like people are starting to realise the importance of nature on their doorstep. Despite being an ecologist by trade, it has for the first time given me the motivation and excuse to get out of my flat and properly explore the natural spaces within walking distance of my home. Much like most people, I’ve taken these areas for granted, too used to travelling to well-known spots for wildlife.
However, what I have found is that what’s on my doorstep is pretty phenomenal. A short walk from my apartment is a floodplain in which the River Kennet passes through; during the winter, it’s incredibly wet but dries in mid-Spring allowing cattle to graze. In the middle of the marsh is a disused railway embankment, completely wooded along its length. Although this embankment was my usual running route, I’d always run through with headphones, forgetting to take a moment to explore and listen to the surroundings. During my daily lockdown walks, I’ve not only discovered a number of animal holes but heard cuckoos for the first time. I wanted my next discovery to find out what wildlife I’d missed!
CHOOSING A CAMERA TRAP
Much like most modern tech, prices for camera traps have dropped significantly over the past 5 years and it’s now possible to pick up a decent one for around £35-40 ($40-50). These cheaper models tend to capture photos or video, can capture night footage, and can capture HD quality daylight footage. However, much like cameras more generally, the more you pay the higher the resolution, quality of the footage, and additional features that you’ll get.
For the purpose of my local experiment, I went with a cheap model and it’s done just the job. One thing that camera traps don’t come with is a memory card, so make sure you consider what memory card the trap you purchase requires before you buy.
HOW TO SET UP
Camera traps are incredibly easy to use and most of the information you’ll need for set up will be explained in the instruction manual that comes with your product. They typically open up and have a display screen inside, which allows you to change the settings and see any footage that you’ve already taken – handy if you just want to stop by your trap and see if you’ve snapped any footage.
However, once you’ve found a location you want to set up at, you’ll need to secure the trap against something – 9 times out of 10 this will be a tree. Using the belt that comes with your camera trap, wrap the belt around the trees securing it to the location you want – make sure it’s pointing in the direction you think animals may move past!
A few extra tips:
- Move or remove any vegetation hanging or swaying across the camera. Snapping twigs and tearing leaves in this instance is good practice.
- Make sure your camera is inconspicuous; people are naturally curious if they see a weird green or brown box attached to a tree they will go and have a look. You’ll be surprised at the amount of footage of people you’ll get if you’re trapping in an urban area. I tend to cover the sides and top of my trap with vegetation, hiding it from the view of passers-by.
- Get yourself some rechargeable batteries – nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) are the best.
- Set up a filing system to download and order your files – you’re likely to get a lot!
- If you have it on video setting – watch the playback in double speed to reduce the time you spend looking through videos without any wildlife in.
- Remember where you placed it!
TRIAL AND ERROR
Next, and arguably the most important part, is selecting a good spot to place your trap. If you’re opportunistically looking to find out what wildlife’s about, placing your camera trap along an infrequently used footpath or near a stream could work, as there is a chance nocturnal animals may use these as commuting routes. In fact, the name of the game is trial and error; set it up and get going. After a few placements, you’ll start to get a good idea of what a good spot looks like.
However, if like me you’re keen to see what’s dwelling in an animal hole, then you’ll need to think a little bit like an animal. For a burrow I recently found, I noticed that several of the entrances were clean with no vegetation growing – a sign that something is using that hole. I initially set up the trap to focus on one of the holes and on the first night discovered that badgers were using the dwelling! However, as you can see from the pictures above, the angle wasn’t ideal.
SUCCESS IS SWEET
The next location was an animal run. Mammals like badgers tend to cause ground disturbance much like we do when walking across a field or in a woodland, so animal runs offer good spots for catching mammals.
The set up along the animal run was a success – I’d discovered a family of badgers using the sett and interestingly using the animal run as a commuting route. Not only that, but it also seems as if they spray at the location directly in front of the camera to mark their territory. On top of that, I also captured some footage of a few curious mice, blackbirds, and robins.
Now every time I go for a run along the railway embankment, I’ll know that there’s a family of badgers sleeping beneath my feet.