The fourth in Royal Mail’s new nature series, ‘Action for Species’ concentrates on mammals. The series examines UK species that are endangered, but thanks to the efforts of conservation groups and the public, we have become increasingly aware of the threats to our mammal populations, and many now benefit from legal protection and active conservation measures, and are showing encouraging signs of recovery.
Humpback Whale – Megaptera novaeangliae (Average weight: 45 tonnes, total length: 13–15m)
This big, black whale with white under its tail has knobbly flippers that are longer than those of any other whale. Seen mainly in summer to the west of Britain, it arches its back to dive and feeds by sieving small fish from the water using a complex array of frilly plates found in its upper jaw instead of teeth.
Wildcat – Felis silvestris (Average weight: 5.5–6.5kg, total length: 75–110cm)
Shy and nocturnal, and now confined to the wilder parts of Scotland, the wildcat resembles a tabby cat with prominent black stripes on the body and legs. Its tail is thick and round-ended compared to the domestic cat’s thin, pointed tail, but there are many hybrids. Female wildcats can produce one family a year, in spring.
Brown Long-eared Bat – Plecotus auritus (Average weight: 6–10g, total wingspan: 26–29cm)
A small fluttery bat with enormous ears, this mammal is found throughout mainland Britain, except for the extreme north of Scotland. It commonly occurs in attics, as well as hollow trees and bird boxes, and often hovers to pick insects and spiders off trees. Completely harmless and a gentle creature, this is the bat most often found flying inside houses.
Polecat – Mustela putorius
Sperm Whale – Physeter macrocephalus (Average weight: 15–40 tonnes, total length: 10–15m)
The sperm whale, with its huge, blunt-ended head, is normally found in deep waters to the west of Britain, but occasionally strays into estuaries and gets stranded when the tide goes out. Usually solitary, the sperm whale sometimes lives in small groups. After swimming at the surface for about 10 minutes, it then dives deep for half an hour to feed, mainly on squid.
Water Vole – Arvicola terrestris (Average weight: 180–230g, total length: 29–31cm)
A rat-sized animal with a chubby face and dark chocolate-brown fur, the water vole is a good swimmer and lives beside ponds, rivers and ditches, where it digs burrows in the banks and feeds on juicy vegetation, roots and bark. It is found mainly in the lowlands, throughout mainland Britain, usually in small colonies.
Greater Horseshoe Bat – Rhinolophus ferrumequinum (Average weight: 15–30g, total wingspan: 33–39cm)
Large and broad-winged, this species of bat has a distinctive cone-shaped nose-leaf through which its echolocation sounds are focused. Its wings and ears are pale brown, and the fur is grey or buff, with a reddish tinge in older animals. Found mainly in south-west England and south Wales, it hibernates in caves, cellars and mines from October to May, wrapping its wings around its body while roosting. Its food consists of beetles and other large-bodied insects, caught in flight or snatched from the ground. In summer, females seek out warm places such as barn roofs, where, after a 75-day gestation period, they give birth to a single baby each year, nearly a third of its mother’s weight.
Otter – Lutra lutra (Average weight: 6–8kg, total length: 100–110cm)
Large, long and sleek with short legs and webbed feet, the otter is normally seen only in or beside water, where it swims and dives frequently in pursuit of fish, crabs and other aquatic food. More widespread and numerous in western counties, many live along the shores of Scotland’s sea lochs. Otters will usually live alone or in a family group of a female and one to three young.
Dormouse – Muscardinus avellanarius (Average weight: 10–30g, average body length: 12–15cm)
This golden-yellow mammal is the only British mouse with a thick fluffy tail. Found mostly in southern England, it is usually nocturnal and hibernates over the winter. Active among the branches of shrubs and trees, it feeds on flowers, fruits and insects.
Hedgehog – Erinaceus europaeus (Average weight: 500–1200g, total length: 20–25cm)
Britain’s only spiny mammal is found throughout the UK. Normally nocturnal, it snuffles about in gardens, farmland and woodland, feeding on worms, beetles and other small prey. It rolls into a tight ball when alarmed, and hibernates for five to six months over winter.
Title: Action for Species Endangered Mammals
Date of Issue: 13 April 2010
Country: Great Britain
Denominations: 1st class x 10