Monday, 8 November 2010

Dormice Thrive on the Edge

Twice yearly (since 1999) I check the dormouse boxes in the woods along Wenlock Edge. It is always a great task to do and my visits this year were amongst the best. I normally hope that 20% of the boxes will show signs of use by dormice, but in 2010 it was almost double that with some boxes having more than one brood.

It’s not just finding dormice that makes checking the boxes such a rewarding day out.  This year, nearly all of the boxes provided homes or shelter for something – nests of woodmice, voles, birds, wasps and even a roost of brown long-eared bats were found. 

Over the last 100 years, dormouse populations in Britain have dramatically declined, mainly due to the loss and fragmentation of their habitat. They are legally protected both nationally and internationally.  Shropshire is a significant county for dormice as it approaches their northwesterly limit in Europe, so they are particularly vulnerable.  Wenlock Edge is the county stronghold. 

The woodland management on Wenlock Edge, in particular rotational coppice and reversion of conifer areas to broadleaf trees, accounts for the thriving dormouse population. However, the reason for the big increase this year is unclear.  Perhaps the very cold winter was beneficial, allowing them to have a really solid hibernation. Dormice hibernate for 6 months of the year (Nov-Apr), and if they wake during this period, perhaps due to mild weather, they will struggle to find food and loose condition.  Another possibility is that the new bird boxes that have been put up are providing preferable home for the blue tits that often occupy the boxes before the dormice can claim them.  Whatever the explanation, it tells us that we are getting the woodland management right for them on Wenlock Edge.

Caroline Uff,
Ecologist, South Shropshire

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