Aug 07 2020

Dormice – Where Are They Now?

in search of Fingle’s dormice, the footprint tracking study in Hall’s Cleave has continued through June and into July. We’ve had some good results so far this spring, demonstrating how these mini acrobats move around to find food through the season, and as their diet varies depending on what is available. It’s quite normal in a monitoring season to lose contact with these furry friends during the summer as they tend to head for the canopy to find aphids and other invertebrates. These footprint tunnels have confirmed the predicted fall in activity down at our level as, sure enough, there haven’t been so many prints to find at the end of June and into July.


Lightning’ a partial albino Fingle dormouse              Some of the summer dormouse footprints

It seems that, where tree climbing is an option, these furry friends have taken the opportunity to use their ability to scale the tallest trees and set up a temporary home. But there is an interesting anomaly where there aren’t many standing trees, where climbing isn’t an option. Observing the species’ reaction to the enforced clear fell of five years ago is throwing up some interesting behaviour. As the habitat recovers, the dormice move around and do what they need to do in search of food and nesting opportunities. So it seems, in some of the scrubby areas at the top of the hill where there is a lack of big trees, newly planted trees and naturally developing scrub may be providing food for the dormice. In an area where there is a cluster of dormouse activity, wood ants are farming aphids on young, sappy birch trees and bunches of rowan berries are ripening. As we know, aphids and berries are just the kind of diet a dormouse will be looking for in summer.


Wood ants ‘farm’ aphids on young birch      Ripening rowan berries in the dormouse larder

Is this hotspot of summer activity a result of the new and vigorous tree growth? It certainly looks like it from our initial results and, in time, we will be able to see if this becomes a regular pattern of behaviour. Species monitoring volunteers are gradually returning to the woods and were happy to help with the final check of the summer which also showed the same pattern of behaviour. We have a lot to learn from close observation of wildlife and this could be another useful finding to help us to understand and improve the woodland habitat. The survey will start again with a few more volunteers in blackberry season, to collect the results as autumn approaches and before the dormice go back into hibernation. Perhaps more of us will be back in the woods by then to share the crop of juicy berries with the wonderful wildlife of Fingle that we are all keen to protect.

by Matt Parkins

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