Since writing last month I have been involved in several dormouse surveys in both Wiltshire and Somerset.The aim of these surveys is to provide the P.T.E.S with a comprehensive picture of the ups and downs of the dormouse population and have data to make comparisons each year. If a dormouse box is found to contain a dormouse it is carefully removed from its position on the tree, having securely blocked the hole into the box with a bung, and placed into a large polythene bag. The mouse is then let out into the bag, the box removed and the mouse caught, weighed, sexed, aged and finally replaced into the box and relocated upon the tree from whence it came. All of this process is overseen by a licence holder and the mice are none the worse for their experience.The great advantage in handling dormice is the fact that, for the most part, they don’t bite. There are records in these parts of an exception to this rule in the form of a black dormouse which will administer a fairly savage bite if found and handled. The fact that the creature is black is, in itself, very unusual.
Quite often when opening a dormouse box it will be found to contain a Wood Mouse or a yellow Necked Mouse and anyone foolish enough to pick one of these up, without extreme caution,will almost certainly be bitten and hard. Last year I was on a survey with a licence holder and a very young female student. The young lady in question had seen movement when checking a box and had placed the box into the polythene bag believing the occupant to be a dormouse.It quickly became apparent the mouse inside was a wood mouse. Having exited the box the mouse displayed no intention of returning to it. So, said young lady, declared she would catch it and pop it back into the box. I casually asked how she was going to achieve this to which she replied she would pick it up. Asked if she had ever picked one up before her reply was negative. I told her wood mice bite, but no, there would be no problem she said. In went her hand, grabbed the mouse, the mouse bit. It latched on to her index finger and sank its considerable teeth in deep. She will never do that again! Incidentally,biting mouse varieties can be handled, albeit carefully, by a process known as scruffing. This involves manoeuvring the mouse into the corner of the bag and then gripping it behind its head by the scruff of its neck. Thus it cannot bite your. This should only be done by a competent person ….bites are not nice !
Over the recent surveys I have been involved in we have also found large numbers of boxes containing nesting blue tits, great tits and marsh tits. Also, on two occasions, bees. In the case of the birds it seems to me quite incredible how they find the entrance hole into a box as it is against the tree trunk and cannot be seen unless it is approached from the trunk itself. But,find the entrance they do, and then go on to rear their young within. Whilst mentioning the positioning of the holes in dormouse boxes, we found a whole range of the boxes,on a recent survey which had been turned around the other way. No doubt by some well meaning idiot who thought them to be bird boxes.
In most areas the monthly surveys do not take place in August as this is the month in which dormice are having their young which, when first born, are both tiny and pink.
If any readers are interested in becoming involved in dormouse surveys this can be achieved by contacting the local mammal group of your County Wild Life Trust. Details of leaders and dates etc. are to be found on the internet. On the website of The Peoples Trust For Endangered Species can be found a huge amount of information regarding dormice and the surveying process etc.. All of which is free to download. I am fairly confident that there will be surveys conducted in and around Kingsley as I know from my childhood there that dormice were to be found in many of the woods and hangers in that area.
But, be warned, dormouse surveying is a very addictive practice, once you have found and handled one of these delightful little creatures you will be hooked for life. To hold a torpid dormouse in your hands and observe its delicate little features is nothing short of magical.