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The Hampshire Dormouse survey

by Dave Jewsbury

During the last hundred years the dormouse has become extinct in seven counties in the north of its range, and is continuing to decline. It is now only frequent in the South of England, although a good population exists in Continental Europe. The reasons for the decline are thought to be tied to changes in woodland management, although the picture is not certain.

Evidence has recently shown that the dormouse is not totally dependant on coppiced ancient woodland and can be successful in other habitats, such as old hedgerows.

Being small and nocturnal, dormice give few clues that they are present, and they are hard to find. Even in ideal habitat the population density is only 10 per hectare. Hampshire is a stronghold for the species, but there are still only 78 sites recorded.

During this Autumn an effort was launched to find new sites and the true status of the mammal in the county, and I took part in this.

I concentrated in copses on the Manydown Estate, who farm nearly all of the land adjacent to the west side of Basingstoke. Before starting work I had to check in with the estate manager. This gave me a new insight into modern farming, as I saw him controlling his empire from behind a desk, with his workers at the end of mobile phones.

After about an hour I left with a laminated pass to all copses. With so much habitat possibly harbouring my target, I had to be selective to finish before Christmas. I decided to make two or three searches in each of the major woodlands with good hazel under-storey.

I had a theory that the best hazelnut bushes would be where there was most light, so I picked sites on the southern margin of all the woods. I also tried to find somewhere near bramble patches, because blackberries are another favourite food. Where honeysuckle grows is good too, for the mice use it as a component of their nests.

If you have read this far hoping for the bit where I meet my mouse face to face for the first time you are going to be disappointed, for the survey depends upon looking for hazelnuts with gnaw-holes in them. From the shape of the hole it is usually possible to tell what has done the damage.

This is how you work out what has been eating the nuts :

Dormice leave a very neat round hole. The inside of the hole is quite smooth, while the marks on the nut surface are at an angle to it, although this is often not clear to see.
Wood and Yellow-Necked Mice make a more irregular hole. Inside are radial teeth marks which are sometimes hard to see. Fairly random teeth marks can appear on the nut surface. These species are hard to tell apart from their nuts.
Bank Voles usually leave a neat hole. Strong radial tooth marks exist inside the hole, but no marks appear on the nut surface.
Squirrels and birds crack the nut leaving a jagged break without teeth marks.
Insects make a small round hole of a few millimetres diameter as they come out of the nut.
The best place to search seemed to be amongst the stems of large hazel bushes and around the bowl in the leaf litter. Most of the nuts were buried, so it takes some digging around.

After sorting through all my finds, which probably filled a small waste paper basket, I had just 11 nuts which I thought showed the result of dormouse attack. All came from four woods which had never had dormice recorded in them.

Basingstoke Conservation Volunteers
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