A feature of the Tea Garden is the Chalet, an atmospheric timber-built building. The Chalet is home to our Harvest Mice, which are a great favourite with visitors, both young and old. It also houses a small library of natural history books, occasional exhibitions and can be hired by small groups. Apart from this, the chalet verandah is also a great place to sit with a cup of coffee, enjoy the view and soak up the atmosphere.
The Chalet started life in Blakeney, where it was built during the First World War as a wartime billet hut (it was originally divided into three small rooms). As Blakeney grew it was absorbed into a garden, and it was eventually moved to Natural Surroundings around 30 years ago.
Harvest Mice (scientific name Micromys minutus) are Britain’s smallest rodent (a Wood Mouse, for example is twice the size). Once common in cereal crops, they are now mostly found in the long grass of hedgerows, field edges, meadows and heathland. Their long tail is prehensile (capable of gripping) and is used for climbing and for balance. Harvest Mice eat mainly seeds, fruits and bulbs. We feed them on mostly on millet, with some mealworms and occasionally also some fruit. They are said to breed from May to October, but ours are so cosy in the Chalet that they often breed through the winter. Females give birth to up to nine young. When the young are ten weeks old they are separated from the parents and in a further four weeks or so we release the surplus into the meadows at Natural Surroundings.