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Monday, 25 June, 2001, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
'New balls, please' for mice homes
Harvest mouse in tennis ball
Tennis balls will provide new nests for harvest mice
Animal conservationists are getting help from Wimbledon to stop it becoming "game, set and match" for Britain's smallest mammal.

Some of the 36,000 tennis balls used at the world-famous tournament are to be recycled as homes for harvest mice.

It is hoped they will help protect the endangered species from their many predators.

The All England Lawn Tennis Club is donating the balls to help the scheme being run by The Wildlife Trust in Avon, Glamorgan and Northumberland.

Threatened habitats

Harvest mice weigh only six grams when adult - around the same as a 20p piece. The mice normally weave their homes out of shredded grass and reeds part way up tall stalks.

Harvest mouse in tennis ball
The holes in the balls are too small for predators
But their habitat has come under increasing threat from intensive farming methods.

The tennis balls will now be used to encourage breeding in existing mouse strongholds. A small hole will be bored into the top of the used balls.

The balls are attached to poles between 75 centimetres and 1.5 metres off the ground. The mice can then make their nests in relative safety from birds of prey and weasels, which are too big to get through the hole.

Survival needs

The population numbers for the mice, which live mainly in the south of England and Welsh coastal belt, are unknown, and it is hoped the scheme will also provide this information.

The nesting sites will be well away from areas where they might be disturbed by humans, although volunteers will check the tennis balls regularly for evidence of habitation.

Dr Simon Lyster, Director General of the Wildlife Trusts, said: "The harvest mouse is an excellent indicator of the health of our fields and hedgerows.

"In recent years it has been under increasing pressure and we hope that by specific harvest mouse projects such as artificial nests we will provide them with the help they need to survive."

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