North Devon Dormouse Project by Janice Whittington
What is the project about?
In October 2002 I was granted a Tarka Country Millennium Award, which enabled me to purchase and erect 200 dormouse nest boxes and monitor them. The results are entered in the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme.
During the initial stages I, along with some keen volunteers, surveyed several woodlands to try and identify dormouse occupied habitat. We were looking for dormouse-chewed hazelnuts. This was a back-breaking job, and a bit disheartening at first, because sites where I knew dormice had been present in the past, showed no signs of current occupation. I was beginning to despair when I contacted Clinton Devon Estates, who own huge chunks of woodland in North Devon. I was delighted by their eagerness to accommodate me and I was given open access to their woodlands and permission to erect as many dormouse boxes as I wished. This I did in three of their woodlands and chose a privately owned wood for the fourth site.
Erecting the boxes
Again with the help of friends the boxes were erected. They have been placed on a variety of trees of different thickness to give the dormice plenty of choice. Mostly they are between 1 and 2 metres above the ground for ease of checking. Dormice usually nest from 1 metre above ground up to the woodland canopy, although occasionally, nests are found on or close to the ground.
Monitoring the boxes
Every month from April to November the boxes are checked. Usually this is done in the mornings when the dormice are sleepy after their nights’ foraging.
As the first autumn approached I was feeling very disappointed not to have found any dormice in the boxes, then in October I was rewarded with the first dormouse! Greg, my son found him, so he examined and weighed him before replacing him carefully back in his box.
We went on to find more dormice in this and the other three sites, each time examining them to discover what sex they were, weighing them and replacing them in their boxes.
One year on..
Checks in the first three months of the year revealed dormice in several boxes, and in July breeding nests were found containing the first litters!
Two years on..
The project is proving very successful. Dormice are using 22% of the boxes on two of the sites, and they are using tubes, which have only been in place a few weeks.
|Total No. of Dormice per 50 boxes||Site 1||Site 2||Site 3||Site 4|
|2003 April – November||10||2||3||2|
|2004 April – November||35||33||26||14|
This will be on-going and hopefully expanded in the years to come.
Historically Devon has been a stronghold for the European otter, and it continues to support an internationally important population. Throughout the UK in the 1950’s and 60’s otter populations crashed as industry and farming intensified, with water courses becoming contaminated with chemicals and farm runoff and riparian vegetation lost or ploughed up.
Devon’s otters fared much better and from a fragmented residual population left in the 1970’s they have fully recovery with otters now breeding and living at or close to their original densities throughout the county.
When numbers declined drastically in the 1960s it was not until almost all the otters had gone that anyone realised the full picture. This should never happen again, thanks to a 100 strong group of volunteers now playing a vital role in monitoring otter populations.
The volunteers, Otter Spotters, get a site, which is a 600m stretch of riverbank, to check four times a year (in March, June, September and December). The Otter Spotters look for field signs of otters – footprints and spraints (droppings) usually, but occasionally they are lucky enough to see an otter. Road kills and dead otters are also reported to the Environment Agency.
There are over 3000 otter records on the DBRC database showing that otters are now present on every river catchment in Devon. Otter Spotters also record the presence and absence of mink, and have been getting some interesting results. If you would like to take part in Operation Otter please contact Caroline Jones at Devon Biodiversity Records Centre (01392) 274128. You will be given training in how to identify otter signs, and a survey site.
Due to the size of Devon and the spread of members, the DMG are very keen to develop a number of informal local groups who regularly meet and hold events such as trapping surveys, bat walks and training events. Currently there are core members within DMG who have a local interest covering the areas around Barnstaple, Exeter and Totnes. The DMG would be keen to hear from anyone who would be interested in helping develop such informal groups to help us spread our message and enjoyment in Devon’s mammals.