Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Nibbled nut project Success

In October 2015 we started a dormouse feeding signs (hazel nut) project on Wenlock Edge. The project aims to survey the entirety of Wenlock Edge in National Trust ownership and will therefore be undertaken over a number of years on a number of occasions between September and December. 

The goal of the project is to see if dormouse feeding signs can be found in every area of Wenlock Edge where there is fruiting Hazel. Caroline Uff searched the Edge back in 2001 to try to find dormouse feeding signs in every kilometre square but this data is now well out of date and the new project will search the Edge much more thoroughly. 

Nut searches are the most effective method of establishing dormouse presence where fruiting Hazel is present. The Hazel dormouse, as the name suggests, feeds on hazelnuts to gain much needed weight for Winter, they leave a smooth round opening with teeth marks ‘spiralling’ around the rim of the hole. Wood mice and voles also leave a round hole but their teeth marks go from the inside of the hole to the outside and are often quite messy. Hazel nuts that have been cracked open are likely to have been opened by squirrels and tiny holes are made by insects.

We started with a training day on the 21st October, ran by Andy Perry (ecologist at Carding Mill Valley), at Presthope where we learned to differentiate between the different nibble marks and practiced our surveying techniques. Then the surveys began properly, starting at the Much Wenlock end of the edge, around Harley bank. We walked circular routes looking in the leaf litter around fruiting Hazel stands. Dormice eat nuts up in the canopy and so their nuts tend to be scattered whereas voles and mice will often have large caches at the base. Using hand lenses borrowed from the Shropshire Mammal Group we carefully studied the teeth marks and if it was found to be a dormouse nibbled nut we marked it on the map, took a grid reference and moved onto another area. All these nuts were then verified by Andrew Perry. If the nut was not nibbled by a dormouse but nibbled by a rodent it was collected and if 100 nuts were collected, none of which were dormice nuts, then there is a strong likelihood that dormice are not present. However this does not mean they are conclusively absent as they can have very sparse populations.

In some places we found the dormouse nuts quickly and easily, with 2 or more being found in quick succession in the same area, but other areas were not so forthcoming. However everyone was very determined and we managed to thoroughly search an impressive area of about 23 hectares of the Edge for nuts and found 19 dormouse nibbled nuts.We were generally very lucky with the weather and only had to cancel one survey completely and cut short one other due to torrential rain!

Over the course of the four survey dates and one training day I had 22 different volunteers join me to search the woods with an average of 11 people on each survey.  We had a mixture of National Trust volunteers from Wenlock Edge and Carding Mill Valley and members of the Wenlock Edge and Strettons Area community wildlife groups. A huge thank you goes out to everyone who got involved and made the nibbled nut project such a success this year!
  

 Just a handful of our brilliant volunteers!


The results so far

The below map has been created by inputting the grid references taken during the surveys into mapping software, thank you to Andy Perry for doing this. The green dots on the map show where dormouse nuts have been found and red dots show areas which were searched but no dormouse nuts were found.The red line shows the National Trust ownership boundary. Areas were not searched if Hazel was not present.
The results so far show that dormouse signs were found in most areas searched including in areas of active coppicingwhich is great news. There are a number of potential reasons why signs were not found in some areas,for example; where hazel stands were quite sparse, stands which are too youngto fruit or where the hazel may be shaded out by a dense canopy, restricting how much it fruits.


We are still recruiting for nibbled nut volunteers for 2016 and beyond, if you are interested in taking part in next year’s surveys then please email me at kate.price@nationaltrust.org.uk Anyone with a keen interest in nature, who enjoys walking and who doesn’t mind rummaging in the leaf litter for nibbled nuts on quite a steep gradient can participate in the survey.

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