Other Mammal Species – Squirrels, Rabbits and Hares

Alongside deer, squirrels and lagomorphs are among the easiest mammals to see although sadly red squirrels are now restricted to Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour.

Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris

Formally widespread in Britain red squirrels are now sadly largely restricted to Scotland and northern England with isolated populations elsewhere. Has been replaced by the introduced grey squirrel over much of its former range as a result of interspecific competition and disease.

mammal-redsquirrel
Photo: Colin Varndell

Status in Dorset:

Restricted to Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour where relatively easily seen in the woodlands and around the cafe.

Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis

Native to eastern North America grey Squirrels were introduced to c.30 sites across England and Wales between 1876 and 1929 and have spread widely although they remain absent from some parts of their British range. They have unfortunately been instrumental in the decline of red squirrels in Britain.

mammal-greysquirrel
Photo: Colin Varndell

Status in Dorset:

Widespread and very common.

Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus

Introduced to Britain by the Normans, rabbits are now a common sight throughout mainland Britain and most offshore islands. The population crashed in the 1950s and 1960s as a result of myxomatosis but the population has fully recovered.

mammal-rabbit
Photo:Colin Varndell

Status in Dorset:

Widespread and common. Melanistic and piebald individuals are often encountered on the Isle of Portland.

Brown Hare Lepus europaeus

Occurs throughout Britain although replaced by mountain hare in some higher altitude areas in Scotland and northern England. Sometimes confused with rabbits but longer eared and longer legged. Spends much of the day in woodland or deep cover emerging to feed in open areas late in the day.

mammal-hare
Photo: Colin Varndell

Status in Dorset:

Widespread and easily seen in much of the county. Most conspicuous in winter when cover is sparse and particularly in early spring (March/April) when groups gather and engage in high speed chases and bouts of ‘boxing’ during the mad march hare mating season. Wytch Down south of Sixpenny Handley and the West Bexington areas are particularly good in spring.

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