Nibbled Nut Project
In October 2015 we started a dormouse feeding signs (hazel nut) project on Wenlock Edge. The project aims to survey the entirety of Wenlock Edge in National Trust ownership and will therefore be undertaken over a number of years on a number of occasions between September and December.
The goal of the project is to see if dormouse feeding signs can be found in every area of Wenlock Edge where there is fruiting Hazel. Our ecologist searched the Edge back in 2001 to try to find dormouse feeding signs in every kilometre square but this data is now out of date and the new project will search the Edge much more thoroughly.
Nut searches are the most effective method of establishing dormouse presence where there is fruiting Hazel. The Hazel dormouse, as the name suggests, feeds on hazelnuts to gain much needed weight for Winter and they leave a distinctive smooth round opening with teeth marks ‘spiralling’ around the rim of the hole.
Wood mice and voles also leave a round hole but their teeth marks go from the inside of the hole to the outside and are often messy. Hazel nuts that have been cracked open are likely to have been opened by squirrels or birds and tiny holes are made by insects.
In 2015 we started the surveys at an area called Harley bank and are now working our way south-west along the edge. We walk predetermined routes, which ensure we cover the woods thoroughly, looking in the leaf litter around fruiting Hazel stands. Dormice eat nuts up in the canopy and so their nuts tend to be scattered on the floor whereas voles and mice will often have large caches at the base of stools.
Once a nut has been found we use hand lenses to carefully study the teeth marks and if it is a dormouse nibbled nut we mark it on the map, take a grid reference and move onto another area. If the nut was not nibbled by a dormouse but nibbled by a rodent it is collected and if 100 nuts are collected, none of which are dormice nuts, then there is a strong likelihood that dormice are not present in that area.
However this does not mean they are conclusively absent as they can have very sparse populations. Having this in-depth look at where dormice can be found helps us to better understand their distribution and it enables us to identify areas for possible intervention e.g. installing nest boxes.
A huge thank you goes out to everyone who gets involved and makes the nibbled nut project such a success! When it comes to searching for nibbled nuts, the more the merrier! So if you are interested in taking part then please email me.