An experienced National Trust ranger was left reeling after a rare hazel dormouse danced up his back.
James Robbins, a ranger on the conservation charity’s Cotehele Estate, Cornwall, was checking the 60 dormouse nest boxes in a wooded valley on the estate earlier this month.
It was the first time the James, whose image of a snoring dormouse was chosen as one of the Guardian’s pictures of the year last Christmas, had checked the boxes this year.
He said: “I wasn’t necessarily expecting to see anything. But when I took the box off the tree to look inside the dormouse jumped out.
“I was caught off guard. It went up my t-shirt and was scurrying around my shoulders for a little while. Then escaped down my leg and away into the wood.”
It is possible that dormouse was the same one that captured public attention last autumn. “It was exactly where I found the dormouse last year,” James said.
Unfazed, ranger James continued to check the wood’s nest boxes for other dormice – finding one female in a deep sleep.
Hazel dormouse numbers in the undisturbed wooded valley are stable. James, who is a licensed dormouse handler, said: “Regular coppicing every few years has created the right hazel wood habitat for the dormice.” Rangers plan to install an additional 40 nest boxes in the woodland this year.
Once common, hazel dormouse numbers have plummeted as traditional woodland management techniques have died out and habitats have become more fragmented. The rare animals are now protected by law.
The National Trust has committed to created 25,000 hectares of new ‘priority’ wildlife habitats by 2025, benefiting rare wildlife like hazel dormice.
‘I nearly fell off my ladder’
Almost a hundred miles away at Fyne Court, Somerset, a bashful dormouse was spotted squatting in a birds nest six feet above the ground.
Rob Skinner, a National Trust area ranger and licensed dormouse handler, made the discovery while checking bird nesting boxes on the Somerset estate as part of a regular survey for the British Trust for Ornithology.
He said: “I nearly fell off my ladder. It’s not something I was expecting to see. We have 93 dedicated dormouse nesting boxes in our woods – but this juvenile ignored them all.”
The dormouse stayed for three weeks before disappearing earlier this month, ranger Rob Skinner said.
Fact file: About hazel dormice
- The golden-brown Hazel dormice are up to 14cm long – about the same length as an iPhone 6.
- During the summer dormice spend almost all of their time in the branches of trees. Between October and May, dormice hibernate in nests below leaf litter at the base of trees – curled up into a ball the size of an avocado nut.
- The loss of hedgerows and lack of management of woodlands (its preferred habitat) means that dormouse numbers are falling. The rare mammals are listed as a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
- Dormice are a legally protected species and can only be handled under license from Natural England.