Tag Archives: woods

July 2016 Dormouse Box Check

July’s dormouse box check got off to a good start. As I looked into my first box of the day, a lively dormouse appeared.

By the time I had got the box off the tree, into the bag, the dormouse had turned shy, burrowing beneath the nest. The nest itself wasn’t particularly well constructed, so unlikely to survive being lifted out of the box.

An unusually messy, loose dormouse nest
An unusually messy, loose dormouse nest

Often when active dormice are reluctant to come out of their nests at this time of the year, it’s because they have young they want to protect. So I took things slowly and carefully. Once I had established there were no youngsters in the nest, I had another go at getting out the adult, this time successfully.

I finally extracted the dormouse from it's box
I finally extracted the dormouse from it’s box

It’s always a little nerve-wracking, handling your first active dormouse of the year. The last active one I handled was back in October – 9 months ago. Luckily this one was pretty cooperative (and pretty) so didn’t make a run for freedom up my arms.

We weighed and sexed her quickly, then returned her to the box. She was 16g, which is not unusual for the time of year.

The dormouse in a bag, to be weighed
The dormouse in a bag, to be weighed

The rest of the check was less exciting – no other dormice and no new dormouse nests. The bees are still occupying a couple of former dormouse nests. The bluetits have all left their nests, but a couple of wrens were still nesting in the cosiest nests imaginable.

The pleasant morning was completed by a quick lap of a Cherry Fair (it’d be rude not to buy some cherries).

Hopefully next month we’ll have some signs of breeding to boost the local dormouse population.

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Review of the dormousing year

It’s late November, and despite the usually mild weather, most dormice will be hibernating by now. That gives dormouse monitors some time to take stock of the year, enter data onto the national database, and start planning for next year.

This week I attended a meeting of Surrey Dormouse Group site leaders. It was the first I’ve attended, as I have only just finished my traineeship. It was very interesting to hear about all the different monitoring sites in Surrey – I hadn’t realised how many there were. But then Surrey is the most wooded county in England, and has some good dormouse habitat.

The consensus seemed to be that 2014 wasn’t a great year for dormice in Surrey (with the exception of a couple of very popular sites). This matches my own experiences this year, where several checks I did resulted in no dormice. Some sites had good numbers at the beginning of the season, and then some quiet months. Other sites saw very little until October.

There are many puzzles in dormouse monitoring. Several of the sites adjoin, or are well connected to each other. But there seems to be little link between how well they do in terms of dormice numbers. A couple of sites have big problems with squirrels destroying the dormouse boxes, while in adjacent sites this isn’t an issue.

I’m hoping to get my own site next year, which would be exciting. The group discussed a few possibilities for developing or revamping sites. The main limitation is lack of funding. It costs around £10 to make a dormouse box, and a new monitoring site needs 50, which adds up. We’re going to try to raise some money to allow us to set up new sites, as the data monitoring provides is essential to protect dormice.

Another plan we discussed was doing some habitat work (coppicing trees) to help dormice thrive in our existing sites.

Exciting stuff for the winter, although I suspect the dormice have an even better way of spending the cold months.

Dormouse box cleaning

It was lovely to get back to the woods this weekend for my first dormouse session of the year. Box checks naturally come to a halt over winter (an advantage of monitoring an animal that hibernates), so it has been a few months since I last helped at a check.
Most dormice are still hibernating in March, so the focus of Saturday’s session was to clean and repair the boxes, ready for when the dormice emerge. We were a bit worried that we may have left it too late this year, with the warm weather meaning spring seems to be springing earlier than usual. But we didn’t find any dormice, and not many birds have started nesting in the boxes either.
We had a lovely day for it. Quite a contrast to most of the box cleaning sessions that I have done, where my hands become numb from cold within the first few minutes.
While we didn’t find any dormice, there were quite a few wood mice that had to be evicted from the dormice boxes.
Orchids and bluebells have already come up (although not in flower yet),  while primroses and violets were blooming. I was expecting more trees to have come down in the storms, but not many appear to have been damaged,  at least in the parts of the wood we monitor.
Anyway, the boxes are now clean and ready for dormice to occupy. The next check should be exciting.