Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Monkwod Dormice ... doing well!

2012 seems to have been a bit mixed for dormice around the country but at Monkwood it’s been one of the best years yet!

Things started well with a successful grant from Peoples Trust for Endangered Species to help pay for 65 new dormice nest boxes to follow up a tube survey of the perimeter of the wood in 2010-2011 that found signs of dormice all around the wood.

10 of these boxes were used to replace some existing worn out or squirrel-damaged ones at the north end of Monkwood and the rest enabled us to set up a new run of boxes in an area of younger growth at the south end of the wood. The new boxes went up at the end of March and had only been up for a few weeks before we found a torpid female dormouse during our check in June.

Dormice hibernate fully during the winter but during the summer, and particularly during spring when there is less food around, they can go into a deep sleep known as torpor to save energy and so are often found fast asleep at this time of year. After a couple of minutes in the hand they will start to wake up but sometimes are relaxed enough to go back to sleep again! Instant winner of the ‘Cutest animal in the wood’ award!

Wood mouse
In July we found a few new dormouse nests but no dormice. However, the boxes were home to a total of 10 yellow-neck mice (Apodemus flavicollis) and one woodmouse (Apodemus sylvaticus). Apart from having pretty slummy domestic habits and making a right mess of the nestboxes, yellow-neck mice are widely believed to eat torpid dormice so the dormice often seem abandon the nestboxes in favour of safer natural nest sites at this time of year.

In August we found just one female dormouse in the same box as 2 months earlier but showing little increase in weight and we began to suspect that all the rain was keeping the dormice in at nights and affecting feeding and breeding.

We needn’t have worried though - by September the dormice were back and we found a few more nests  and two males and one female in another of the new southern boxes. All three were a good weight for the time of year and beginning to fatten up for hibernation. Judging from the weight and fur colour, one of the males was a juvenile born earlier in the year and a good sign that some young were being born and finding enough to eat.

Dormouse weigh-in
This was all confirmed last week in our October check. Apart from a few nests we didn’t find any dormice in the southern boxes but found three juveniles in one of the northern boxes. Again these were all at a good weight ready to go into hibernation in the next few weeks.

Many thanks to PTES for funding the new boxes and to all those who have helped with the checks this year. Particular thanks must go to the Trust for the management work during the last few years as the regenerating scrub patches provide excellent dormouse habitat and the population seems to be responding accordingly.

Hopefully 2013 will be even better.

Andy, Worcestershire Dormouse Group

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