Project ensures search for dormouse

Over the last 4 years Durham Wildlife Trust’s Heart of Durham Project volunteers, as a result of a generous donation from D’Oyley Carte, have been putting up tubes and specialised boxes at various woodland locations to help in the search for the hazel dormouse.

The Land of Oak and Iron project has over the past 18 months, been involved too, as the Forestry Commission provided a 100 tubes for volunteers to put up in their wood at High Strothers which borders Chopwell woods.

Volunteers with both projects regularly checking the tubes and boxes for signs of use, have not as yet found a dormouse, but have found many variations of small droppings which have left them puzzled as to which mammal might be using the tubes. An article in a copy of the Mammal Summer news 2017, caught the eye of Anne Porter Project Officer for the Heart of Durham Project and a stage two survey method was conceived which might hopefully throw more light on whose droppings they may be.

Over the winter months volunteers have made footprint tracking tubes, consisting of plastic domestic drain pipes, wooden inserts and plastic milk bottle lids. All high tech stuff!

Now that the summer months are here, these tracking tubes are going to be put up in various woodland sites, with the first tubes in High Strothers wood, where volunteers, woodland owners and a Chris Johnson a ranger with the National Trust in Northumberland gathered on Monday to talk about the methodology of using and checking the tubes.

The tracking tubes
With hazelnut butter in the plastic milk bottle top are hung in the trees
And checked every two days for two weeks to see if the bait has been eaten.

At the end of the two weeks, footprint tracking paper will be fastened onto the wooden insert and the bottle top refilled. Then hopefully the most exciting time follows, as the tubes are checked every day for footprints.

Dormice are elusive, they are termed a flagship species, because if they are present in woods, it generally means that the habitat is in a favourable condition.

So even though a dormouse has yet to be found, volunteers are beginning to see woods with new eyes, counting up the positive aspects in respect of  dormice and how much the wood offers to help them live. Chris Johnson from the Northumberland National Trust gave some positive news that within the Staward Gorge area of Northumberland they have been monitoring dormice numbers since 1994, finding 5-10 individuals a year until 2004, since then only 1 dormouse has been found in 2006. One of the reasons for this is that the dormice have migrated away from the original survey area, but as nests are being found yearly, not always where they expect, the National Trust team know they are there. It is hoped that by keeping up the survey work in County Durham and spreading the area of search, we may eventually find some evidence of dormice or even some footprints would be good!!