At Fingle we are lucky enough to have a wood filled with all kinds of different wildlife from Roe Deer to Salmon and Dippers. Yet there is one species in particular that lives here – the Hazel Dormouse.
I have volunteered with the Fingle team for the past two years. During this time, I have been fortunate enough to not only see these incredible little creatures but also work my way towards becoming a licensed handler. This has been a really exciting opportunity to get up close to such an amazing creature.
The season for Dormouse handling generally starts in March with nest box clearing out. This is to get rid of the build-up of old nesting material and slugs that tend to hide from the winter weather. Although the surveying starts in March, there is of course the chance that due to differing weather temperatures, the Dormice may still be using their winter nests which are often either amongst the leaves on the forest floor or hidden in clumps of bramble within a few feet of the ground. This means that there is no guarantee that even through to early May that you will see any Dormice in the boxes.
During the early spring and summer there is all likelihood that if you are out checking boxes, you will come across bird nests – predominantly blue tits. In this case there is nothing you can do except walk away and hope the box will be used by the Dormice later in the season, after the chicks have fledged.
Of course with any endangered and protected species there are certain procedures that need to be followed. Therefore, you are not only learning how to handle and protect the Dormice themselves, but the habitat they need in order to survive. Throughout the season you are seeing how the habitat changes, from the beginning when there is little around, through the time when the likes of honeysuckle are flowering, to when hazelnuts are ready and back to the end of the season when the sources of food are winding down, ready for the Dormice to hibernate.
Dormice, like most other hibernating species, are reliant on the temperature. Therefore, when carrying out the last surveys of the year in October, depending on the weather, you can often still see them. Hopefully by this point however they have gained enough weight to see them through the coming months. For many Dormice, the boxes that are placed up in the trees become too cold, so they often head down to the milder climes of the woodland floor. Keep an eye out next time you’re walking in the woods this winter; they don’t want to be stepped on or disturbed from their sleep.
By Ella Chambers, Fingle Volunteer and Social Media Intern