Looking after dormice
Hazel dormice are no bigger than an avocado stone, and with their golden-brown fur and large black eyes it’s easy to see why they’re one of the UK’s most appealing small mammals.
However many people will have never seen a dormouse in the flesh, as they’re nocturnal and spend much of the spring and summer up high among tree branches or in hedgerows.
This is also where they build their nests during the breeding season using grass, leaves and shredded honeysuckle bark. The female dormouse will have on average four young in a litter, typically in July or August. The young are weaned after about a month, but will often stay with their mother as juveniles.
During the winter dormice leave the tree canopy to hibernate on the ground, often under logs and piles of leaves, in grass tussocks or at the base of trees. Dormice will also sleep through cold and wet weather whatever the time of year, so they actually spend a large proportion of their time unconscious. In fact their name comes from the French word ‘dormir’, which means ‘to sleep’.
When they are awake, dormice spend much of their time in search or buds, hazelnuts, berries and insects to eat. Hazelnuts provide a great source of fat for dormice; so hazel trees are an ideal habitat.
" Hazel woods are the dormice’s ideal habitat. By coppicing trees and having cattle in to graze, we can create the perfect habitat for these mammals."
A safe space for Dormice
Loss of woodlands and competition for food mean that hazel dormice are in trouble, with numbers tumbling in the last century. But our rangers are working hard to restore the woodland habitats they need.
Ranger James Robbins regularly surveys the woods at Cotehele, Cornwall, for the rare creatures. He said: 'Nationally, Britain’s dormice are struggling – but in one undisturbed wooded valley at Cotehele numbers are booming.
'Our hazel woods are the dormice’s ideal habitat. We’ve recently coppiced hazel trees in the woods and grazing by highland cattle has helped create the perfect habitat for these mammals.'
Sophie Parker, area ranger at Leith Hill, got the opportunity to hold one of these special animals while checking the boxes under the supervision of a licensed handler from the Surrey Dormouse Group.