If there is a message that comes across from the mammal species accounts in this book it is that populations change across time. Go back a few hundred years and our carnivore populations would have been a lot more robust; go back a few thousand years and our ungulates would have been more robust, with the presence of such species as aurochs and elk. The more recent extinctions, and thankfully in some cases subsequent re-colonisations, have at least some historical documentation which is outlined in the relevant sections in this book. The presence of mammals that have long been extinct in the region are known only from bones or inferred from texts and these are catalogued in this section.
On the other hand there is always the potential for new mammal species to colonise the region either as escapes or deliberate introductions. Since Mennell and Perkin’s text in 1864, four species of mammal, Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis, Mountain Hare Lepus timidus, American Mink Neovison vison and Muntjac Muntiacus reevesi, have become resident here and they have their own accounts, which detail their spread through the region. A good number of other species have been recorded at large in the region but without becoming established. Without doubt the most dramatic of these was in the late 1960s when Stanley Zoo was operating. On a farm near the zoo, a farmer walking round his buildings found himself face to face with a Brown Bear Ursus arctos that had escaped from the zoo (Bob Wilkin, pers. comm., 2012). Fortunately the bear was only out for a matter of hours but some animals have managed to survive quite successfully for several months. One snowy night in March 2001, three slightly inebriated entomologists (mothing in the snow?) spent a bizarre hour at Newlandside in the Derwent valley, trying to catch what was first reported to be a Pine Marten Martes martes but turned out to be a Brush-tailed Opossum Trichosurus vulpecula, whose ability to speedily climb the nearest tree put it at no risk of capture by the three very bemused hunters. Some months later, however, it unfortunately failed to elude a passing car (Terry Coult, pers. comm., 2012).
While many of the records of escaped mammals were backed up with some hard evidence in the form of diagnostic signs, photographs or even in some cases a body, there is one category of mammal reports that is so far comprised almost entirely of sightings. Since 2000, Northumbria Mammal Group has run a regular tongue-in-cheek column in its quarterly newsletter entitled “The Big Cat Diaries”, chronicling reports of big or exotic cats in the region. While many remain sceptical, it is at least plausible that one or more such cats are, or have been, at large in the region, which is why they are given their own account in this section.
Written by Ian Bond
EXCTINCT MAMMALS FROM THE PLEISTOCENE
Mammal remains predating the retreat of the last glaciation are rare in northeast England. Most of the known specimens were found in glacial drift deposits, although Trechmann (1920) did discover some earlier material in fissures on the Durham coast, among which were a few bones of a fossil Elephant Archidiskodon meridionalis and vole Mimomys. Trechmann discussed their geological context at length. The few other specimens from the region are bones and teeth of Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus and Elephant and some Giant Deer horns.
Voles Mimomys sp. bones found in fissure filling on the Durham Coast by C.T. Trechmann were identified by Hinton, who added a short note to Trechmann’s paper on the site (Hinton, 1920; Trechmann, 1920). An incisor and anterior cheek tooth of the left upper jaw and some minute fragments of the premaxillae and maxillae were said to agree perfectly with those of “the species of Mimomys which occurs in the Freshwater Bed of West Runton (Norfolk)”.
The tooth of Hippopotamus amphibius found in a gravel pit four miles northwest of Stockton on Tees in September 1958 constitutes the most northerly record in the world for Hippopotamus (Sutcliffe, 1959).
Rhinoceros – ‘The Brierton Rhinoceros’
A humerus of a Rhinoceros was found in November 1938 at a depth of 20 feet in a sand and gravel quarry at Brierton, about 2.5 miles south west of Hartlepool. The geological context was described by Trechmann (1939a), which ascertained that the bone was contained in glacial drift deposits The bone was identified and conserved at the Natural History Museum and is now in Hartlepool Museum.
The few records of Proboscidean remains are all from southern County Durham:
Irish Elk, or Giant Deer
The genus Megaceros is best known for the Upper Pleistocene (Ipswichian-Devensian) species M. giganteus, the Giant Deer or so-called Irish Elk. Three occurrences have been reported from our area, the earliest being reported by Cade (1785) who described “a large cavity on the summit of the camp at Mainsforth … called the Danes Hole, where there was lately digged up a pair of mouse [sic] deer horns of an extraordinary size”.
This antler was next mentioned by Surtees (1823), who gave the site name as Nab-hill (also known as Nable-hill or Marble-hill), a sandy mound of nine acres and with no evidence of being a Danish camp. “In digging a small pond at the Southern base of the hill, a pair of huge antlers belonging to the segh-deer were found bedded in clay, four feet below the surface. One of these is preserved; it measures from root to top three feet eight inches, and ten inches in circumference immediately above the root; the greatest breadth is fourteen inches; several of the branches are evidently broken off”. Hutchinson gave a figure of the antler [in large-paper editions of the book; the plate is lacking in octavo editions], and stated that it was found about the year 1740, which cannot agree with Cade’s statement that it was ‘lately’ dug up; John Cade was born in 1734 and it is unlikely he would have been active that early. Howse (1861) accepted the 1740 date and pointed out that this made the find the first English record for the species – given the doubt over the date, this claim is now doubtful.
In the winter of 1855-56 a partial skeleton was discovered below a bed of peat, and resting on marly clay, in a brickyard at South Shields (Howse, 1861). The remains were sent to the Crystal Palace, and identified by Waterhouse Hawkins.
A pair of antlers, lacking the skull, was reported to Howse (1861) as being washed out of the Forest Bed at Snook Point, at the mouth of the Tees. The antlers were deposited in Durham University Museum. Since the Forest Bed is more recent than the extinction of the Irish Elk, it is likely that the horns were washed out of a lower deposit, “Some of these deposits, as at Belford hall, Adderstone Mains, etc., have yielded the remains of Bos primigenius, the Red Deer Cervus elaphus, the Great Elk Megaceros hibernicus, and doubtless many more of these interesting relics remain to be unearthed” (Bateson, 1893). This is very vague, and possibly refers to the ‘Irish Elk’ from Coldingham that was actually a misidentification of an Elk (Alces alces).
Written by Leslie Jessop
EXTINCT MAMMALS FROM THE HOLOCENE
By way of introduction it is worth considering the evidence used to determine which mammals that existed after the last ice age have become extinct. There are few references to mammal remains of the Holocene in our area. The classic paper by Winch (1817) on the Geology of Northumberland and Durham mentions only “horns of some species of Bos and Cervus are found embedded” in alluvial marl on the west side of the river Till. Gunn and Clough (1895) also mention fossils, including several large stag antlers, from peat bogs east of Sunnylaws. The most important source of Holocene faunal and floral remains is the “forest bed” exposed periodically at several sites along the coast, most famously at Hartlepool (see Cameron, 1878; Trechmann, 1947; and Waughman, 2005). Other evidence largely comes from three sources: animal remains found in caves, remains found in archaeological digs and medieval literature.
Animals found in caves
Mammal bones have been found in several caves in County Durham. The oldest seem to be from Moking Hurth, the so-called Backhouse Cave in Teesdale, where a range of species famously included Lynx. For most of the caves the bones were removed without the stratigraphy (of periods of hundreds, possibly thousands, of years) being recorded. It would be an interesting, but major, project to re-examine the bones with the benefit of modern technology, using radiocarbon dating, DNA and isotope analysis. The major cave find sites are:
The archaeological literature includes a number of interesting mammal records. For instance, the Roman Fort at Arbeia has yielded Yellow-necked Mouse Apodemus flavicollis and Garden Dormouse Eliomys quercinus as well as several other small mammals (Younger, in Bidwell and Speak, 1994).
Important sites include the coastal “forest beds”, of which the best known is at Hartlepool (see Waughman, 2005), which has yielded a number of bones. Also, finds at Corstopitum (see Meek, 1911) included Beaver, Hare, Water Vole, Mole, Badger and Fox as well as domesticated animals.
For a review of vertebrate remains from archaeological sites of all dates from the region, see Huntley and Stallibrass (1995).
Much of the Medieval and later literature relating to animals that have become extinct in Britain was summarized by Harting (1880). The local evidence includes the Durham Account Rolls (Fowler, 1898-1900; Raine, 1844), which provide a wealth of evidence relating to Durham in the Mediaeval period. The rare occurrences of mammals in the Account Rolls are interesting:
Two intriguing mammal references in the Account Rolls are worth noting. In 1360-61, 31 shillings was spent on buying an ape and bringing it from York for the Prior (In una simian empt. Apud Ebor. pro d’no Priore 31 s). Also 1532-33 there was a payment of five shillings for the care of bears and apes for the Bishop (custodi ursorum et cimearum domine Principis).
European Beaver Castor fiber
The evidence for Beaver in the North East is scant. There are two instances of the species at archaeological sites:
In addition a recent discovery of a Beaver-gnawed stick, protruding from alluvium on the bank of a North Tyne tributary, is awaiting interpretation (Angus Lunn, pers. com., 2012).
Coles, in O’Connor and Sykes (2010), said “In the earlier 12th Century an English Act set tolls for exports from Newcastle upon Tyne, including beaver skins”. Tracing this reference backwards, Mennell and Perkins (1864) claimed that an export duty of fourpence each was levied on Beaver skins. In turn, their information was from Wilson (they say Watson, in error) (1858). The claim is based on a manuscript of the reign of Henry I (1135), published by Brand (1789, volume 2 p. 131) and Martin (1911). Headed De tallio dando et accipiendo (tally of giving and receiving), it lists specific tolls payable at Newcastle. Since there are entries for ox-carts, horses-and-carts and pack-horses, the list is more likely to be charges for things coming into-, out of- and through Newcastle (by road and river) than it is to be a list of export duties. The entry relating to Beaver skins reads De tymbr’ de gupill’ vel martinis vel sablin’ vel beverin’ 4d. (tymbrium = 40 furs, gupillus = fox). Since Martens and Beavers are never likely to have been so common as to be exported in batches of 40, and since Sable did not occur in our region, the duty was almost certainly payable on imports – possibly for luxury goods for the Norman population of the newly fortified city?
A further reference to the species is in the Durham Account Rolls, where in 1380, two beaver pelts were bought for two shillings and ninepence.
Wolf Canis lupus
Other than the well known “Allendale wolf” (see Carnivore introduction) evidence for the existence of wolves in the region is mainly archaeological. Skeletal material of Canis lupus is not easily distinguished from that of a large dog, and it would make an interesting project to track down and confirm the identity of the cited specimens.
The most certain Wolf remains are from Moking Hurth cave in Teesdale: listed by Davies (1880), cited by Reynolds (1909) and Yalden (1999), and further details given in the review of the site by Simms (1974). Simms repeated a passage by James Backhouse: “The almost complete skeleton of a Wolf, almost three-fourths the size of a full-grown male Arctic, was found in one of the fissures…”. Simms also reported that a Wolf cranium found in 1969 yielded silt with pollen (including woodland and grassland with cereal cultivation and some standing water) that was analysed as “a typical Zone VIII assemblage”, likely to be Iron Age or later in origin.
Doubtful archaeological records as dog/wolf are:
There are few claims for the later existence of wolves in the North East. Mennel and Perkins (1864) cited several allusions to wolves in Northumberland in the Mediaeval period, the most definite being from the reign of Henry III (1216-1272) where land is held with right of hunting wolves with dogs – but the place mentioned (Laxton) is in South Yorkshire. Similarly, it is said that Robert de Umfraville held the lordship of Redesdale by service of defending that part of the county against enemies and wolves, but this is not evidence that wolves were actually in Redesdale to be “defended against”.
At first sight a Latin poem by Lawrence, Prior of Durham (1149-1154) (published in Raine, 1880), contains unambiguous evidence that states wolves ate 500 young horses during one winter. However, the poem is situated in the context of a violent civil war and should be read within that context. Is the reference to real wolves, or a metaphorical allusion to political/social events (cf. the “wolf packs” of the war in the Atlantic, 1939-1945)? If the Bishopric had been troubled by wolves to such a great extent, or if they had been hunted in the Bishop’s parks, then we would expect to see references elsewhere, but these are notably absent.
Lynx Felis lynx
Radiocarbon dates of the few Lynx remains known from Britain show an astonishing range, the oldest ones dating from the thermal maximum of the Late glacial interstadial (12,650 ±120 BP) and other cave remains dating from the Holocene (9570-8930 BP). However, the youngest archaeological examples extend the time range of the species into the Roman period and beyond (the most recent date is 1550±24 BP).
The only reference for Lynx in the North East is the humerus and metatarsal of a Lynx that were found in Moking Hurth Cave (Teesdale), and which was only the second time the species had been found in England. The find was published by Davies (1880), the humerus was figured, and both bones described in detail. If the Lynx was from the same period as the Wolf analysed by Simms (1874), then it is Iron Age in origin.
Wild Cat Felis sylvestris
The last stronghold of Wild Cats in our area seems to have been northern Northumberland, where the species seems to have clung on until the middle of the 19th century. Wild Cats seem to be absent from the archaeological record, other than a skull and limb bones from a cave near Stanhope mentioned in a letter (1988) from James Rackham to Terry Coult. The bulk of the records are from a period when Wild Cats were actively being sought out and destroyed as vermin.
The bounty records of animals, listed in the Churchwarden’s books of Corbridge, show that 141 Wild Cats were killed between 1677 and 1724. If this level of attrition was prevalent throughout the farmed areas of the North East, it is little surprise that the species declined. The next accounts of them date from a period when the population was failing. Hardy (1849) reviewed records for Berwickshire. He said that in the late 1700s they were numerous in the woods above Pease Bridge, and raided hen houses as far west as Dunglass. Below Blaikie, holes in a bank were called “Cat-Holes”, which were home to Wild Cats. By 1849 the species had not been seen for at least 40 years, although it appeared that at least one still survived “secured amidst the fastnesses of our rocky coast”: on 17 March 1849 Hardy saw one on the coast immediately to the east of St Helen’s chapel, on very steep banks. He noted its large size and deep grey colour, and recalled his father seeing them 40 years ago in a similar spot.
An article by Sidney Gibson (1869) in The Gentleman’s Magazine included information from Algernon, Duke of Northumberland (1792-1865), who told him he remembered a Wild Cat killed in Hulne Park around 1810 and stuffed by Thomas Newton, the keeper of Brizlee Tower. It had a short thick tail and measured six feet long.
More information about Wild Cats was published in the 1860s and 1870s, mainly in the History of the Berwickshire Naturalists’ Club. Hardy (1874) followed up his earlier article with more stories of Wild Cats in North Northumberland and the Borders. He said that until the mid-1700s Kielder was “a great place for wild cats”, and gave the story of James Telfer’s grandfather being attacked by one (a story first printed in 1870 in The Gentleman’s Magazine 3: 254).
Mennel and Perkins (1864) noted the following records:
Possibly the last Wild Cat record for the North East is a taxidermy mount by Rowland Ward of a Wild Cat holding a rabbit, labelled as being shot at Moss Wood, Barmoor (near Lowick), 1863. A photograph of the specimen was posted on the internet in 2012.
Brown Bear Ursus arctos
Brown Bear probably died out in Britain during the Roman period. The few records from our area – all from County Durham – are a mixture of wild and captive animals.
The wild bears are represented by one occurrence. Simms (1974) reported the presence of a juvenile mandible and portions of a cranial roof of Ursus arctos from Moking Hurth cave in Teesdale. If this is a similar age as the Wolf from the same cave, it is probably Iron Age or later in origin.
Bear bones have been found during excavations at Binchester on two occasions. A mandible unearthed in the backfill of one of Rev Hooppell’s 19th century excavations was probably late Roman with a possibility of being medieval. Recently two bones, possibly bear, were found from two different contexts (67, and 353). The bones are both unfused proximal tibiae, one of which is broken into three pieces, the other is one piece.
Captive bears occur in the Durham Account Rolls (Fowler 1898-1900), where in 1532-33 five shillings was paid for the care of bears and apes for the Bishop (custodi ursorum et cimearum domine Principis). Also, four Brown Bear bones were found during excavation of the Inner Ward of the Castle at Barnard Castle (Austin, 2007): these are Medieval and, given the context, were most likely captive animals.
Wild Boar Sus scrofa
It is not easy to identify Sus scrofa remains from archaeological sites as being “wild”, “domestic”, or feral. For an in-depth discussion of the problem, see Rowley-Conwy et al. (2012). Any Sus scrofa remains predating the Neolithic are likely to be from wild pigs: thus it was reasonable to record bones from Howick Haven Mesolithic settlement (Waddington et al., 2003) as being “wild pig”. However, domestication of pigs did not mark the end of Wild Boar in Britain (see Albarella, in O’Connor and Sykes, 2010), so remains of that date and later need to be interpreted with care. Bones from other sites, including the cave remains (such as boar tusks from Heathery Burn cave) are still open to investigation.
Howse (1861) noted the following:
Harting (1880) suggested that three entries in the Durham Account Rolls for 1530 and 1531 refer to Wild Boar because they use the Latin terms aper or apro. There are several mentions of swine in the Rolls, and these are mainly as porci (and porcell[i] = piglets), but also once (in 1376), as purchase of a barhyd (boar’s head): the apro could have simply been male domestic swine rather than wild ones. A payment for erecting huts in the “garden of swine” in 1445-46 shows that the Monastery had its own piggery.
A 12th century poem by Lawrence of Durham (Raine, 1880) alludes to a wild boar hunt, but the context does not confirm that wild boar were being hunted in County Durham at that time.
The place name Brancepeth is sometimes said to be derived from Wild Boar (“Brawn’s Path”), but this is fanciful. The origin was probably from a personal name (“Brand’s Path”) (Watts, 2002).
Cattle and Aurochs Bos
The genus Bos is represented in Britain by B. primigenius (the Aurochs) and its descendants, the domestic cattle. The domestic forms were introduced into Britain in the Neolithic, and Aurochs occurred from the Middle Pleistocene until its extinction (in Britain) during the Bronze Age. Few skeletal remains of Aurochs from the North East have been dated. It is possible to confuse bones of wild and domestic animals, and the remains of the species in our area deserve a specialist review.
Bos remains are quite widely distributed in our area. Howse (1861) listed the following examples:
More recent records are:
Elk, or Moose Alces alces
There are few records of Alces alces from the North East, but one is particularly interesting and has been investigated scientifically:
Written by Leslie Jessop (last updated Nov 12)