The BHNF trainees have been involved with monitoring a number of dormouse boxes this summer. This week the team were lucky enough to get a glimpse of one of these very cute and secretive mammals whilst checking nesting boxes near Staple Fitzpaine. This was part of the training programme set up by the project to enable participants to get practical experience of ecological surveying and conservation work to prepare for a career in these sectors.
Hazel dormice have golden-brown fur and large black eyes and, distinctively, they are the only small British mammal with a furry tail. They are nocturnal and spend almost all of their time in the branches of trees during the summer, rarely coming down to the ground. They have sometimes been found asleep in old bird nests but they weave their own nests (often in brambles or other shrubs) from strips of honeysuckle bark or a similar plant, surrounded by a layer of green leaves. When conditions are cold or wet, or if food is scarce, dormice curl up into a ball and go into a state similar to hibernation for a short time (called torpor) in order to save energy. Between October and May dormice hibernate in nests beneath the leaf litter on the forest floor or in the base of hedgerows.
August and september are good months to look for signs of dormice in woodlands and hedgerows. Hazelnuts are a favourite food of the hazel dormouse – not unsurprisingly. They love to eat hazelnuts whilst they are still green and soft enough for them to gnaw a hole in. Once they’ve reached the kernel inside, they drop the nibbled shell to the forest floor where it slowly turns brown and blends in with the leaf litter. Look out for hazel nuts with neat round holes that look a bit like tiny clogs!
If you find any dormouse nibbled nuts please let us know where you found them (inc a OS grid reference if possible) and how long you spent looking.