The Itinerant Ecologist and friends (you know who you are, you lovely people!) are active with the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme managed by the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species. For you acronym anoraks out there, that’s the NDMP and PTES.
PTES do a lot of good work through raising money, undertaking scientific research, practical conservation and public education to help to protect wildlife in the UK and around the world. One of their most enduring initiatives is the NDMP which has been running for the past 25 years. The NDMP has several hundred monitors at over 400 sites across the UK, who undertake regular monitoring each year.
So firstly a bit of background:
The hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) is a small (and very cute) arboreal (tree dwelling) mammal which is present throughout England, Wales and much of Europe. Their preferred habitat is successional woody vegetation which, in other words, is the new growth which arises when woodland is regularly managed, for example by coppicing, ride widening, thinning or glade creation. Due to the changes in European woodland management over the past century or so, dormice now tend to be associated most often with old coppice woodland. They are also often found in scrub, hedgerows and occasionally in conifer plantations.
Now for the legaleseâ€¦ Dormice are fully protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and Schedule 2 of The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) making it a European Protected Species. As such, any survey or work involving disturbance and handling of dormice requires a specific licence from the relevant statutory authority, which in England is Natural England, and in Wales Natural Resources Wales.
The Itinerant Ecologist has been involved with regular checks at a monitoring site in Somerset which, together with others in the area, has been monitored for an extended period of time and has a good population of dormice. The site comprises 50 nestboxes split into two long transects. The surveyors check each box for evidence of dormice, including their characteristic nests or gnawed nuts and dormice themselves. Monitoring is undertaken on a monthly basis from April through to November, though a visit in March is often carried out for maintenance purposes, to check the boxes for wear and tear and repair or replace where needed.
With 2013 recognised as a poor year for dormice, 2014 proved to be a pleasant surprise with a peak count of 13 and over 30 dormice in total over all the visits. Without marking those found, it’s very difficult to tell individual dormice apart (except for a single dormouse with a particularly stumpy tail, who was found on almost every visit). It was especially good news to find, on several occasions, breeding mothers.
We’re looking forward to the 2015 season!