Animal Focus: The remarkable Common Shrew

(Photo: Heart of England Forest –

One animal that is likely to be living on your plot is the Common Shrew (Sorex araneus) which can make a home almost anywhere but is most commonly found in hedgerows, scrubland, grassland and deciduous woodland throughout the UK. They are believed to be the second most numerous British mammal, living at densities of up to 50 per hectare in many woodlands and often over 20 per hectare in grasslands and other habitats. The most recent estimate puts the number of shrews in Britain at 41,700,000!

As shrews must eat every 2-3 hours to survive they are often seen at the surface foraging for food, but usually live in burrows (so you’re likely to see evidence of them in your compost heap). Shrews do not hibernate, but they do become less active in winter.

What makes them so remarkable?

  1. They shrink in size during winter (skull and brain too)! – so need less food and it takes less effort to move.
  2. They produce a foul tasting liquid from their skin glands making them unappetising to potential predators.
  3. Females are very prolific – and quite promiscuous, having 5-7 litters of young between May and September, often with different fathers.
  4. Young shrews often form ‘caravans’ to follow their mother, grasping the tail of the preceding shrew, so that the mother runs along with a line of young trailing behind!
  5. Shrews are highly territorial animals and only socialise with one another in the mating season.

    (Adapted from an article by The Mammal Society.)

Want to see them in action?

Below is a short video compilation, showing shrews enjoying life in a Craven Vale Allotment compost heap during two days in January 2021.

Published by Nick

A plotholder on Craven Vale Allotment since 2010. I'm particularly proud of my expanding vineyard, which in a good year creates litres and litres of red and white wine! I love our site for the fabulous views over the sea and Downs, as well as the wealth of wildlife that can be found here. It really is a bit of countryside in the heart of the city. I feel very lucky to have my plot.

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