By Denis O’Connor

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

BRAMBLES are a mixed blessing. Their flowers are loved by bees, hoverflies and butterflies while the blackberries they produce in late summer are wonderful. However, we have sometimes speculated that, were we to abandon our house for just a few years, on our return we might find it vanished, enveloped by brambles and ivy like the Mayan pyramids of the Central American jungles.

Our garden has always had brambles but these have got worse since the big trees in the adjacent Farnley Hall Woods were felled for timber some years ago, opening up the woodland floor. The brambles have taken over, obliterating the sea of bluebells and wild garlic once so glorious in the spring.

The brambles in the woods are now so impenetrable that we no longer open the curtains to find roe deer in the garden, browsing or drinking from the ponds before leaping the fence back into the woods.

While recently clearing one garden bramble patch a small rodent shot out and stopped a few feet away beside a small gap in the house wall. It darted inside then reappeared moments later before again withdrawing. It was clearly a vole with small ears, button eyes and blunt nose.

I then picked up an old dustbin lid that had been lying concealed under the brambles. Beneath it was a slightly flattened globe nest fitting into a slight hollow in the ground, five inches across and made of dried grass with a little moss. Six inches from the nest was a neat pile of about 100 glistening black droppings – this was a well organised rodent!

I was sure that this was the same species that we have sometimes seen picking up scraps below our bird feeders. I had previously identified them as field voles but on closer examination of my photos and some internet research have concluded they are bank voles.

The clinching features are the tail length (half the length of body plus head in the bank vole, only one third in the field vole.), the more red-brown fur and the site and construction of the nest. Apparently, bank voles will make their nests above ground if the soil is unsuitable for digging and the ground was hard after weeks without rain.

The nest site, hidden below the dustbin lid and protected by the brambles must have been ideal. The nest was still empty so I replaced the lid, covered it with cut brambles and scattered some sunflower seeds by way of an apology for the disturbance.