Many of us have probably considered how nice it would be to hibernate for the winter, curling up somewhere cosy before the first frosts take hold then waking up as the Spring sunshine warms the ground. For dormice, a long winter hibernation is the reality, and they are now curled up in their nests on the woodland floor until next April or May.
This gives us the opportunity to do some winter house-keeping on their behalf, and on Sunday 7th December’s Volunteer Day we will be doing some maintenance to our dormouse boxes, and installing some new dormouse nest tubes around Denmark Farm.
Some of the new tubes will be installed in an area of hazel at the bottom of the site. Dormouse are arboreal and spend most of their time in the canopy. They therefore need good habitat ‘connectivity’ to enable them to move around between nest and feeding sites without coming to the ground. Our hazel copse appears to be an ideal spot – although dormouse rarely read the text books and sometimes have their own views about habitat suitability!
There are very few known dormice populations in Ceredigion, so we were excited to find a hazel nut, nibbled in the distinctive manner of the dormouse, a few years ago. So far we have not found further evidence of their presence, but are keen to give them a helping hand and are still hopeful that we may find one during our regular dormouse box checks.
We have 50 wooden dormouse boxes around site, and around 20 nest tubes, and to prolong their life they need a regular winter clean-out. Although we do not yet have dormice using the boxes, we are providing a home for a variety of other wildlife, including blue tits and wood mice who all fill the boxes with an array of materials which can go a bit damp and mouldy over the winter. We also replace any loose fastenings, clean drainage holes, and check that the box is not damaging the tree.
Wood mice create a nest of dead leaves while dormice weave a nest from honeysuckle bark. They also put a few leaves around the outside of the nest, so before we clean the boxes out we have a gentle feel around inside the nest box first, to identify the nest and check if it is in current use (dormouse are a species protected by law, and a licence is needed from NRW/ Natural England before handling or disturbing dormice). The boxes were installed by the ‘Mammals in a Sustainable Environment’ project, and we continue to work closely with them to monitor the boxes at least twice a year.
To give us a hand with this essential winter task, and to find out more about one of Britain’s cutest mammals, join us on Sunday 7th December from 10 am to 4 pm (or as long as you can spare). There will be an indoor presentation about their ecology and habitat requirements, but we will be outside for much of the day, so bring warm and waterproof clothing and footwear.