By Charlotte Owen
There are 101 species of wild mammal to be found in and around the British Isles – plus one, if you count humans. This might be more than you’d guess, and to be fair some of the species are a bit obscure. Five are found only on islands, like the Skomer vole and lesser white-toothed (Scilly) shrew. A handful are classed as vagrants because they are seen so occasionally, while others are feral or managed, like the Exmoor and Dartmoor ponies.The core list of native species comprises 18 bats and 28 terrestrial mammals, ranging from the tiny Harvest Mouse to the enormous Red Deer. A further 13 species have been introduced or naturalised, including the Rabbit, Brown Hare, Grey Squirrel and Red-necked Wallaby. Then there are the oft-forgotten marine mammals: 25 cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and two pinnipeds (literally ‘flipper-feet’), the common and grey seals.
Both seal species can be seen here in Sussex but you’re more likely to spot a Common Seal. They sometimes swim up-river to take walkers by surprise but one of the best places to look for them is Chichester Harbour. Here, Common Seals regularly haul out onto the sand and mud to rest or take a nap, and it’s the only known breeding ground or ‘rookery’ in the Eastern English Channel. Their pups are born in June and July and can swim and dive just hours after birth, which is crucial if they’re born on a sand bank soon to be submerged by the incoming tide. By contrast, Grey Seal pups are born in the winter and stay on dry land for about three weeks before taking their first swim. Nourished by their mother’s rich milk, which is about 60% fat, seal pups grow so rapidly you can almost see it happening. They can put on a hefty two kilograms in a single day and much of this is laid down as blubber, which provides a vital layer of insulation so effective they can survive in water cold enough to kill a human. Closer to shore they will occasionally accompany swimmers, so look out for a curious face bobbing in the waves.