Volunteers needed for Oxfordshire dormouse hunt

An ongoing project to confirm the presence of dormice in woodlands across the county is appealing for volunteers. The Oxfordshire Dormouse Project, run by the Oxfordshire Mammal Group (OxMG), needs up to 60 people to help carry out vital monitoring and recording work over the summer months.

One thousand nesting tubes have already been installed across 14 woodland areas around Charlbury, Fulbrook, Piddington, Stokenchurch and Goring, and researchers are hoping these will provide vital evidence of dormice activity.

Dormouse in hand (photo by Pete Newbold)

Pete Newbold, survey officer for the OxMG, said: “We need around five volunteers per survey site, and this is a unique opportunity to join a licensed group of experts and take part in important field work in areas that wouldn’t normally be open to the public.

“Dormice are quite rare, they’re a protected species and there are very few records of them within Oxfordshire. We don’t know if this is because the population is very low, or if it is down to a lack of survey data, so we hope this project will be able to tell us more about whether they are here or not.”

“If we do find dormice, then some of our volunteers may be fortunate enough to be able to handle them under the close supervision of our licensed handlers, as we record statistics such as weight and measurements.”

Charity group the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment (TOE2), has provided around £4,000 for the work, with the money coming from Grundon Waste Management through the Landfill Communities Fund.

As well as supporting the project, some of the funding is being used to buy further nesting boxes made by upcycling community group Bicester Green. These nesting boxes will be installed in the woodlands to aid in the conservation of this rare species.

Predominantly nocturnal, dormice sleep during the day and forage mainly at night, but from July through to September they become more active as they look for food for their young. By examining nests within the nesting tubes, the OxMG group hopes to discover vital data about the tiny creature’s habits.

Another clue to the presence of dormice is discarded nuts (hazelnuts are a favourite) and, because of the very distinctive way a dormouse chews the nut, researchers can tell if they are in an area just by examining the opened shells.

Pete Newbold continued: “Even if people are unable to volunteer, we’d still like them to conduct nut hunts of their own and submit their findings to us so we can check for evidence of dormice activity.

“It’s something that we’re very keen to promote as it’s great fun for both children and adults and encourages them to get out and explore the countryside, while potentially helping conservation at the same time.

“As a relatively small charity, we’ve been extremely grateful for the funding, without it we wouldn’t have been able to launch the survey, which comes at a crucial time for the future of the dormouse.”

Although historical data is few and far between, Pete says there is one previous record of a single nut opened by dormice found in one of the woods chosen for the current project, so there is hope.

As well as raising awareness of dormice, the OxMG is also focusing on encouraging land owners to do more to improve woodland areas, such as linking up patches of suitable habitat and reducing the impact of current management activities.

Toni Robinson, compliance manager at Grundon and TOE2 board member, said: “This is a great project and one which we’re delighted to support. Dormice are in serious decline and it’s really important to find out where they are living in order to monitor their future wellbeing and encourage dormouse-friendly ways of managing their habitat.”

To join one of the volunteer groups, you have to become a member of the OxMG at a cost of £5. The group has just launched a new website, for full details visit www.oxonmammals.org

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