Monitoring the Hazel Dormouse at Hargate Forest
Hargate Forest was once part of one of the great medieval forests of the Sussex High Weald. Set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it boasts mature woodland, an amazing diversity of plants and wildlife, an intriguing history and stunning views over the surrounding countryside.
Emma McIntyre and her sister, Lucy, have been volunteering with the Woodland Trust for eight years and whilst it pretty easy to understand why they’ve signed up to help one of Britain’s cutest mammals, we wanted to learn what motivated them to sign up together.
“We began volunteering with a group that met monthly at Hargate Forest to do various conservation jobs such as planting trees, assembling and putting up bat boxes and clearing the forest floor. Lucy was invited to accompany and observe the leader of the group to do a hazel dormouse survey; it inspired her to gain her own license to monitor with dormice being a protected species – once learning more I also had to get involved!”
The Dormouse is an elusive creature and difficult to survey; to gain their license, volunteers have to attend a rigorous induction programme.
“We attended courses on small mammal trapping and handling at Wildwood, joined regular surveys and received immense support from the two mentors who signed our licenses. Dave Bonsall who is the Site manager at Hargate Forest has also been hugely helpful and our surveys help to shape the wood’s management plan.”
Would it be hard to guest the most enjoyable part of their roles?
“You won’t be surprised that we will say dormice! The surveying means we get out in the fresh air in woodland which is right on our doorstep. With the stresses of everyday life, it is both relaxing and therapeutic to step away from a desk and back to nature. We love Hargate Forest for its natural history, volunteering has meant we observe the seasonal changes in nature and have learnt so much about conservation.”
“The decrease in their population over recent years is both frightening and sad. Our role is to monitor and record information in the least intrusive way possible and training is vital. Dormice remain somewhat an enigma of the forest and there is so much more we can learn about them and how they fit into their environment. The presence of dormice in a habitat is a great sign of a healthy and diverse forest!”
It is not just dormice that have been found in the cosy boxes, the double act have come across lots of birds, wood mice, yellow necked mice and surprisingly, a shrew family one season.
“It is essential to have specific licences to handle both shrews and birds so on finding them one can only observe but it is great to know that the boxes are providing a shelter for other wildlife. The only other unusual occurrence was finding a wasp nest that had swallowed the best part of a box – we did not get very close to that one!”
Thank you, Emma, for sharing your volunteer story and love for the Hazel Dormouse with us!
Words by: Volunteer Development Officer, Lucy Shea, following an interview with wildlife monitor Emma McIntyre.