Since taking up voluntary work with The Woodland Trust and becoming their warden for two woods close to where I live it has seemed to me increasingly likely that both woods in question have a population of Dormice. Both woods are ancient and have the sort of trees favoured by the mice. Especially hazel. There is also an abundance of honeysuckle which Dormice use to construct their nests. However, believing the Dormouse is present is one thing confirming it is quite another.
Growing up in Kingsley I was familiar with Dormice as they were present in many of the copses which existed in and around the village. Of course, in those days the copses were worked, woodmen coppiced them and used the hazel sticks to make hurdles. Pea sticks and bean poles were other products of their work. Working, as they did, the woodmen often came across the nests of dormice and, in those days, dormice were popular as pets. Not least because they don’t usually bite when picked up. Compared to most other mice which do bite, the Dormouse is very docile. This fact was well recognised by one George Cansdale who was an animal expert, television celebrity and author. I happened to have one of his books on pets, I think, for boys. In any event within its pages among many other animals, both domestic and wild, was a section on the Dormouse telling the reader of its suitability as a pet. Although, as previously mentioned not being bitten by a Dormouse , no doubt, contributed to Mr. Cansdales recommendation as a pet. There is no doubt at all that Dormice are the most beautiful little creatures. However, pet wise, the fact that they are nocturnal would seem to me to be a tiny bit of a problem. After all who wants a pet that only comes out at night ?
Be that as it may, today the question of having a Dormouse as a pet is quite out of the question as they are heavily protected both under British and E.U law. Not only are the mice themselves protected everything to do with them is also. Their environment and their nest have far reaching protection in law. It is illegal to handle a Dormouse without a licence. Times have changed dramatically.
So it was that I found myself, just outside Exeter, at Acorn Environment where I had gone on Monday to attend a Dormouse course as the first step towards getting my own licence. In order to proceed with any sort of project in the afore mentioned woods that I look after, a licence is needed. It is lawful to put up boxes and tubes in order to establish if Dormice are present in an area. However, at the first sign of their presence a licence is needed to proceed with further research. Handling a Dormouse is illegal without said licence. It takes about two years to get a licence and the applicant has to demonstrate that he or she has spent considerable time under the supervision of an existing licence holder and is fully competent.
The course was part theory, habitat, law, protection etc. and part practical. This meant a trip to a local reserve in order to check long established nest boxes. The course instructor was a licence holder so we were legally able to handle and weigh any mice that we encountered. The day was hot and sunny, a perfect one to be in the woods on such a mission. Our search for the dormouse was, to start with fruitless, all the boxes checked in the first wood were empty. However, we got lucky in woods number two when in the fifth box we checked there were two Dormice in residence.
Oh how delightful these little creatures are, so perfectly formed for their environment. Tiny feet with unusually large toe nails which enable them to cling to and climb up most surfaces.Our two specimens turned out to be male and female. We weighed them and quickly returned them to their box where, hopefully they will produce a litter of little Dormice.
So, for the next few months nest box building is on the agenda and, although the mice tend to take quite a time before they use a box, I am hopeful that in due course I shall find these little beauties within my two woods.