We always thought dormice were likely to be present, having been recorded in a wood across the road, and with the wood having loads of suitable habitat. I found a few suspicious chewed nuts when we were constructing the tracks two years ago, but nothing certain. Dormice chew neat holes in a hazel nut, whereas squirrels crack them open. But mice also chew small holes, and so you have to look for tooth marks around the hole (mice) or smooth (dormice).
Anyway, the best way to find out was to undertake a full dormouse survey, which could cost a lot of money, but fortunately we had free help from a friend. So this spring around one hundred nest boxes were set up around the woodland. Cheap corrugated plastic tubes are also an option for survey work, but the wooden boxes make an ideal “des res” for dormice. Click here if you want instructions on how to build your own.
Some potential nests were found a few weeks ago though with no actual dormice, there was still a possibility that the boxes were occupied by wood mice. But two weeks ago the first actual dormice were found in the boxes. So proof of what we always thought!
Now dormice are more common than we once thought, and despite the full name of Hazel Dormouse they can be found in quite a few other habitats. They love brambles (including at Chelfham), have been found in a Douglas For plantation on Forestry Commission land, and even on the central reservation of a dual carriageway. Their presence is not a barrier to active management of a wood, but it does mean that operations have to take them into account. This is why we undertook the track construction in the spring and autumn – avoiding major disturbance during the breeding and hibernation seasons.
I would argue that the dormice are present because of the way the site has been managed over many years, and that continued active management is often very important. But be aware that you may need a licence to undertake work that can disturb dormice, and you need a different licence to be qualified to handle the animals. If you think that you may have dormice, the Forestry Commission provide some good basic guidance for woodland owners.