Jul 14 Great nut hunt – by Nida By Tracy

Hazel dormice are small, rarely seen creatures which live predominantly in our woodlands and hedgerows. Over the last century their distribution has shrunk due to loss of their woodland habitats, a decline in the use of traditional coppicing methods and the fact that unlike other small mammals they find it harder to recover their numbers quickly as they are slow to breed, tending to only have one litter a year.

In order to protect this  species it is vital that we know where it is. One of the easiest ways of finding out if it’s present in a woodland is to look for feeding signs. Dormice are one of the few species in our country that hibernate and to ensure they survive the winter they need to build up huge fat reserves. Consequently they rely on habitat that has a variety of plant and tree species that provide an abundance of food stuffs throughout the year, but in particular a wealth of rich foods in the autumn, just before they prepare for winter. Hazel nuts, where available, are a staple of their autumn diet. And luckily for us dormice leave distinctive tooth marks when they gnaw into the green hazel nuts, before eating the kernel and discarding the shell to fall to the forest floor.

This autumn the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, a wildlife conservation charity, is launching the third Great Nut Hunt.  In both 1993 and 2001 the Trust asked people to search their local woodlands for any hazel nuts chewed by wildlife and send them in to be identified.  In total thousands of volunteers sent in hazel nuts from over 2,000 sites and helped to identify almost 500 woodlands that had dormice present across England and Wales, which had been previously unrecorded. Of these 50 are now being monitored annually. The Trust is encouraging people of all ages to get out into the woods this year to help hunt for more nibbled nuts to see if dormice are there. To take part in the 2009 Great Nut Hunt email Nida Al Fulaij at nida@ptes.org or visit our website www.ptes.org/greatnuthunt .

Remember, that as a protected species, only lisenced handlers are allowed to touch or move the dormice. Please do not handle them.

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