- 1Urban areas are predicted to grow significantly in the foreseeable future because of increasing human population growth. Predicting the impact of urban development and expansion on mammal populations is of considerable interest due to possible effects on biodiversity and human-wildlife conflict.
- 2The British government has recently announced a substantial housing programme to meet the demands of its growing population and changing socio-economic profile. This is likely to result in the construction of high-density, low-cost housing with small residential gardens. To assess the potential effects of this programme, we analysed the factors affecting the current pattern of use of residential gardens by a range of mammal species using a questionnaire distributed in wildlife and gardening magazines and via The Mammal Society.
- 3Twenty-two species/species groups were recorded. However, the pattern of garden use by individual species was limited, with only six species/species groups (bats, red fox Vulpes vulpes, grey squirrel Sciurus carolinensis, hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus, mice, voles) recorded as frequent visitors to > 20% of gardens in the survey.
- 4There was a high degree of association between the variables recorded in the study, such that it was difficult to quantify the effects of individual variables. However, all species/species groups appeared to be negatively affected by the increased fragmentation and reduced proximity of natural and semi-natural habitats, decreasing garden size and garden structure, but to differing degrees. Patterns of garden use were most clearly affected by house location (city, town, village, rural), with garden use declining with increasing urbanization for the majority of species/species groups, except red foxes and grey squirrels. Increasing urbanization is likely to be related to a wide range of interrelated factors, any or all of which may affect a range of mammal species.
- 5Overall, the probable effects of the planned housing development programme in Britain are not likely to be beneficial to mammal populations, although the pattern of use examined in this study may represent patterns of habitat selection by species rather than differences in distribution or abundance. Consequently, additional data are required on the factors affecting the density of species within urban environments.