You might not think there’s much to celebrate about a grubby old tennis ball, but these seemingly uninspiring objects are being put to use in an unusual way by one of our country’s cutest critters.
In autumn 2015, wardens at the RSPB’s Dee Estuary nature reserve discovered an empty harvest mouse nest, alerting the team that these tiny creatures – not usually found so far north – had moved into their Cheshire site. Since then, the team has come up with a creative way of providing more homes for their resident rodents: by using old tennis balls.
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Alasdair Grubb, the warden at Dee Estuary nature reserve, said: “Sadly harvest mice numbers are falling in the UK due to changing farming practices and other pressures on our countryside, so we were delighted to discover they had made a home at Burton Mere Wetlands and were eager to find out how many and whereabouts they were living.”
Harvest mice are the tiniest mammals known to the U.K., but they’re facing some big problems right now.
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According to The Guardian, they’ve seen serious losses to their habitats thanks to unspecified “modern farming practices,” and were once thought extinct in Hampshire, England where they were first discovered.
Fortunately, they were rediscovered in that region back in 2016.
To prevent such a dangerous drop in their numbers from happening again, the mission is now to protect them in their remaining habitats.
According to the BBC, the local Wildlife Trust has partnered with the All England Lawn Tennis Club to convert some of the 36,000 tennis balls that get used during the Wimbledon Tournament into small homes for the mice.
They may seem like a strange idea, but these tennis ball houses have many practical purposes.
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They’re being installed as a means of encouraging the harvest mice to breed, but they may also prove helpful in getting a sense of harvest mice numbers, which are currently unknown.
They were also designed to make the mice as safe as possible from predators.
The mice average about six grams in weight, so conservationists cut a hole in each tennis ball that’s big enough for them to get in, but small enough to keep predators like birds of prey and weasels out.
They’re also kept on poles about two to five feet from the ground to make the weasels even less curious. And they’ve been placed in nesting areas where humans aren’t likely to travel.