New homes for dormice at the gorge

Holnicote Ranger holding a sleeping dormouse

In summer 2017 the woodwork volunteers at Made-Well constructed 50 new dormouse nest boxes to put up in the gorge.

A shiny new dormouse nest box constructed by Made-Well
One of the new dormouse nest boxes made by Made-Well
A shiny new dormouse nest box constructed by Made-Well

Made-Well are a community interest company based in Hatherleigh who provide a wide range of constructive, purposeful and positive ‘day opportunities’ for people with learning disabilities, physical disabilities and mental ill health diagnosis.

At the end of 2017, 25 of the new boxes were put up in a section of the gorge full of old hazel coppices which looked perfect for dormice. The other 25 will go up in 2020 in another section of woodland at the gorge.

In October 2018 the rangers spotted a dormouse out and about in the day - which is unusual as they are typically nocturnal - it was probably looking for a suitable place to hibernate over the winter which they do at ground level cuddled up in leaf litter. However this suggests that we do indeed have dormice at the gorge. 

With 50 dormouse nest boxes up it will hopefully be possible to assess whether there is a healthy dormouse population at the gorge, and this information will help us determine what management is best for the area. Following the mammal society guidelines the boxes will be checked once a month from April to November. Data on weight, gender and age group from any dormice found will be recorded and sent to the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme. In order to do this type of survey anyone handling the dormice needs a licence granted by Natural England. 

Between April and November 2018 the 25 nest boxes that were up were checked regularly. In April there were two nests, however they were blue tit nests and not dormice. In May one blue tit nest had just-hatched chicks and the other had an adult sitting on the nest.

Just-hatched blue tit chicks in a dormouse box
Just-hatched blue tit chicks in a dormouse box
Just-hatched blue tit chicks in a dormouse box

From June to November there were no new residents in the boxes. Then when clearing out the boxes in January we found mice, however they were two wood mice families using the boxes as a cosy winter hideaway. 

Wood mouse family cuddling up for winter in a dormouse box
A wood mouse family cuddling up for winter in a dormouse box
Wood mouse family cuddling up for winter in a dormouse box

We'll continue to share updates on any wildlife that moves into the boxes on our social media channels so check us out.