Tracking mammal footprints as part of our search for dormice

Over the last 4 years Durham Wildlife Trust’s Heart of Durham Project, as a result of a generous donation from D’Oyley Carte, has been putting up tubes and specialised boxes at various woodland locations as part of their survey of  looking for dormice in County Durham.

Now the Land of Oak and Iron project has also got involved, as the Forestry Commission provided this project with a 100 tubes for volunteers to put up in Strothers Hills Wood.

Volunteers with both projects regularly checking the tubes and boxes have found many variations of small droppings and are puzzled as to which mammal has been using their tubes.

In a copy of the Mammal Summer news 2017, an article caught the eye of Anne Porter Project Officer for the Heart of Durham Project and an idea was conceived.

On Wednesday the 29th of November volunteers met at Chopwell Forest School classroom to round up the year’s survey discoveries and to learn about the benefits of using GPS to locate tubes and boxes, but the main event was the construction of footprint tracking tubes.

Conservation Officer Vivien Kent explains how to use GPS monitoring

A simple and hopefully effective method of identifying the mammals that might be frequenting the boxes and tubes consists of some domestic plastic drain pipe, recycled off cuts of timber and a plastic milk bottle top. Oh and some specialized inked paper!

A footprint tracking tube showing all the components
Small wooden blocks at either end prevent the wooden tray from falling out
Volunteers get busy with construction – cutting the plastic drain pipes in to 40cm lengths
Drain pipes cut, stacked and waiting for the wooden tray insert
Holes drilled on the underside will enable the wooden trays to be removed so that the specialized tracking paper, which will eventually be fastened to the wooden tray, can be examined
The wooden trays are held in position by small blocks of wood screwed to the pipe. This will hopefully deter damage from squirrels.
The footprint tracking tubes all complete will be put out on various sites in June 2018. The tubes, pre-baited with hazelnut butter, will be put in position and after two weeks specialized tracking paper will be fastened to the tray. The tubes and paper will then be checked every two days for any signs of foot prints.

So watch this space for future updates on how these tubes are working in tracking mammal footprints. Thank you to all the volunteers inolved in this day and the preparation of the materials.