Sit quietly for a while in the garden and you have a good chance of seeing a wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus). The other day we were out working in the garden, both of us in the shade of a huge Magnolia soulangeana. Between us was a roughly oval bed planted with woodland species on the edge of which we've put an upturned planting basket where seed is put down for small birds, so the bigger birds don't eat everything.
Seeing movement, we looked towards the seeds and there was a wood mouse busily tucking in and either oblivious to our presence or hungry enough to not care. It sat quietly eating for several minutes before silently disappearing into the undergrowth. A little treat for the day, for us and the mouse. I wonder where it lives, for we've found many nests over the years, but mice are generally shy creatures and skillful at hiding their homes.
Mice is nice
The People's Trust for Endangered Species estimates the UK's population of wood mice to be around 38 million. I have seen them in nearly every garden I've worked in, and more still in woodland. It's interesting to hear and see the reactions garden owners have when I've told them there's a wood mouse living out there. For some, their eyes widen in wonder, some sigh and frown and others will emit a moue of disgust. That last one, the moue of disgust, has made me more choosy about who I tell, for fear that traps will be put out, but it's reassuring that most people react positively. After all, with a population of around 38 million, there could be a mouse for every garden in the UK and trying to get rid of them would be a futile effort. Mice aren't just a nuisance, their seed-eating habits serve us well – imagine the extra work that would be needed if mice weren't there to eat the seeds of trees and blackberries.
Do an internet search on the difference between the wood mouse and house mouse and the results sway towards eradication. I can understand that people don't want mice living alongside them in their homes, but I believe it's important to accept that mice share our outdoor habitat and find ways to work around them.
Mice are great opportunists and if they see a good source of food, they will naturally eat it. Mice have an excellent sense of smell and don't need to search out your beans and peas, they'll just go straight to where they've been sown and neatly pluck them from the soil.
If we want to grow beans and peas, therefore, they are started off in places where the mice won't have the opportunity to find and eat them and only put into the ground when they've grown on into established plants. Sometimes there will be disappointments – newly-planted crocus bulbs are a prize for mice so may be well get eaten. I live with it, plant more bulbs and relish knowing that the garden supports life other than plants.
** Please note the contents of this blog reflect the views of its author and are not necessarily those of the RHS **