The Dormouse

This engaging mammal, the dormouse, or more correctly the hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) forms part of the logo of the Friends of Holtspur Bank. When the reserve was designated in 1995, searches in the wood soon revealed hazel nuts with the characteristic gnawed holes made by these shy mammals. Dormouse boxes were put on trees to encourage them to use them as nesting boxes during the summer and one was found in use when Maurice Young (who had a licence to do so) looked in one of the boxes during a summer walk in 1996.

Sadly, although more nuts eaten by dormice had been found initially, this is not the case now and the boxes do not seem to have been used at all for several years except by blue tits that have found them a good place for nests. We have always hoped that once again there could be a viable population in Cut-throat Wood, but when Pat Morris (the national expert on small mammals) gave a talk at an AGM he said that the minimum area needed was fifty hectares and as the wood is only about four hectares their survival in such a small area is precarious, especially as the corridors to other woods have been broken at the bottom of the valley between the two reserves (Holtspur Bank and Holtspur Bottom). Because they are nocturnal, spending most of their waking hours in the tree canopy, they can easily be overlooked, so a ray of hope remains that they could still use the boxes.

Dormice are easily recognised because they are the only small mammals in Britain to have a completely furry tail. They have golden-brown to orange fur on their backs and are pale underneath. Their ears are small and their eyes large and black. The body is from 60-90 mm long and the tail from 55-75 mm. They feed on buds, flowers, berries, seeds and insects and, of course, hazel nuts. They build 6-12 cm spherical nests in dense shrubs out of honeysuckle bark, grass and moss. They produce one or two litters of 4 to 5 young each year and hibernate from October to April. In winter they hibernate in nests beneath the leaf litter on the ground and during unfavourable weather in the summer they go into torpor a lot of the time: so Lewis Carroll got it right!

The hazel dormouse