Spying on mammals in your back garden (video)

What mammals are foraging in our back gardens? Starting last year, researchers from WUR and the Dutch Mammal Society have been using camera traps to investigate this. In the spring they hope to extend the project by getting the general public involved.
Vincent Koperdraat

(Photo: Vincent Koperdraat)

Joep van Belkom is walking around a garden in Wageningen armed with a camera and a tin of sardines. ‘This is the camera. It looks a bit rough and unwieldy but that’s because it has to be able to withstand all kinds of weather.’ The Forest and Nature Conservation student places the camera – which reacts to the body heat of mammals – next to a tree and puts the tin of sardines about one-and-a-half metres away. ‘The sardines will lure mammals visiting this garden towards the camera. That’s the best way to record the animals living in our back gardens.’

New habitat

Van Belkom is one of the students working on the Wild Camera project, which is managed by Patrick Jansen from the Resource Ecology chair group. ‘Most wild mammals in the Netherlands originally lived in forests. But their habitat has largely been cleared and has become increasingly urbanized. In this study, we are looking at the extent to which wild mammals are using this new habitat. To do that, we are sampling gardens along a gradient, from gardens in the middle of a wood to those in the middle of a city.’

We are curious to see how the presence of mammals differs between gardens with lots of greenery and gardens with lots of paving.

Patrick Jansen, Resource ecology

Camera traps have now been placed in more than 150 gardens in Nijmegen, Wageningen, Amersfoort, Deventer and Lelystad, among other places. The gardens differ in their layout. Jansen: ‘We are curious to see how the presence of mammals differs between gardens with lots of greenery and gardens with lots of paving.’

Jansen has plans to extend the project by using citizen science. He would like everyone who owns a camera trap to set this up and then easily be able to upload the photos to a database. ‘And if you run into problems, you should be able to phone someone who sorts out that problem for you.’


However, as in so many studies, there is a lack of funding. According to Jansen, another 60,000 euros is needed this year to manage the technical side properly, provide assistance for the volunteers and pay someone for technical support. Jansen has looked at crowdfunding as an option but the target amount seems to be too high for that. ‘That’s why we are currently talking to public authorities and funds about support.’ Jansen hopes to have raised some of the money he needs by the spring.

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