Sunday, 6 September 2009

The Edible Dormouse Experience

For ease of blogging i'm going to have to extend the boundaries of my blog and rebrand, maybe calling it 'Go Wild in Kent and Beyond' as it sounds suitably Buzz Lightyear

So on September 6th, myself and Lisa had the opportunity to go to the Chilterns and help out with a group of volunteers who have been monitoring an area of woodland that holds around 180 edible dormouse nest boxes.

We were in the good company of dormouse expert, Pat Morris who having studied these wonderful animals locally for around 14 years was in the process of handing over the monitoring scheme. The monitoring process is based on volunteers who come and go, so having some folks turn up from the Kent Mammal Group was an opportunity not to be missed.

The Edible Dormouse (Glis glis) was introduced by Lord Rothschild around 1902 to the area of Tring. No one knows how many were released but since then numbers have gradually built up but remained within a rough 30Km radius. Pat explained to us that although and introduced species and having the dubious honor of being regarded as a pest they are fully protected but once caught it is illegal to release them back into the wild unless under license. So why would you catch them, well they have this habit of appearing in peoples homes and causing a great deal of damage. Some folks have done the release deed and Pat mentioned that they are now appearing in the New Forest and possibly even Essex.

Difficult to see in the wild, a nocturnal and highly arboreal species, this lactating female had managed to escape from the monitoring team and looked back for her young which were being placed back into the nestbox and quickly put back onto the correct tree, ready for her to re-join them.

Unlike Hazel Dormouse nest boxes, those of Edible are more bird box in design and have a side or front facing entrance hole. In the Autumn the dormice really start to pack on the weight and will make the entrance hole larger to accommodate their ever increasing girth. The nest is made up of dry leaves with an inner ball of sawdust.

Sometimes when approaching a nextbox a cute little face would appear at the entrance.

We started to help out with the nest box monitoring and the number of young we came across were all ages from the allmost newborn to almost old enough to leave the nest.

Except for the very young, each one had to be sexed, weighed and chipped. The chipping is a research technique that will hopefully answer a number of questions about dispersal and longevitity. Certainly one of the recaptures was at least 9 years old. Nests contained upto 11 young in some cases and the plastic bags into which we emptied the box contents were a wriggle of bodies.

The same sort of chipping process as used for cats and dogs.

Once the chip had been implanted then a scanner was used to check that it worked. Each chip would uniquely identify the individual.

For such a small mammal they can have a fierce manner and in some cases when checking nextbox contents a sort of light growling eminated from inside and they have sharp teeth, so thick gloves are essential for handling.

Life for such a cute animal remains a tough one. Historically the Romans used to eat them and keep them in jars whilst fattening them up, even today in eastern Europe they continue to be caught for food.