Species of the Month for November – The Hazel Dormouse

Each month we focus on a species that benefits from Fair to Nature farming methods. In November we take a look at the nocturnal Common (or Hazel) dormouse. Paul Chanin, President of the Mammal Society, tells us about what the Common dormouse likes to eat and which habitats it favours…

Hazel Dormouse - Michael Lane
Common (or Hazel) Dormouse. Photo by Michael Lane/123rf.com

For some, autumn is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. For dormice it is the time to stuff themselves with food, laying down stores for the winter. A dormouse which weighs around 20g in the summer may have increased its weight by 50% by the end of October ready to go into hibernation in winter – all solid fat! A month later, most dormice will be hibernating in their winter nests, little bigger than a tennis ball, on the ground, typically amongst leaf litter or moss.

By the following April when the dormouse wakes from its winter sleep it will have lost much of that weight and will have a few weeks to build up its strength before the breeding season begins in June. While fruit, nuts and berries form the basis of the diet in autumn, the spring menu consists mainly of flowers, buds and the youngest and most tender shoots. Dormice are fussy feeders, concentrating on high quality plant food and insects and rejecting anything which smacks of roughage – such as leaves or bark.

One of our most attractive and charismatic mammals, the golden brown dormouse with its fluffy tail and large eyes is widespread in southern Britain but nowhere common. Its numbers are thought to have declined as modern forestry and farming methods have reduced the amount of good habitat available, particularly coppiced woodland and hedges.

Dormouse nest box
A dormouse nest box in woodland at Fair to Nature accredited Wight Salads nursery.

Although woodland is often thought of as their main habitat, scrub and hedgerows are also very important and hedges also provide routes for them to disperse across the landscape. Managing hedges for dormice is an important way to support their populations. This means reducing the frequency of cutting to ensure that trees and shrubs grow enough to fruit profusely. Cutting in alternate years is better than annually, every three years even better. It helps to cut in a patchwork leaving some areas when others are cut.  Try to ensure that only one side of a hedge is cut in anyone year and also leave a few trees to grow to maturity when they will be old enough to produce seeds.

Simple measures like these can help to ensure that this delightful animal persists in our countryside.

Hedge-cutting regimes such as those described by Paul Chanin above are practised by Fair To Nature farmers, along with other measures like erecting dormouse nesting boxes and careful management of woodland areas.

Hedgelink publish an informative leaflet about managing hedgerows for dormice.

For more information on the work of the Mammal Society visit www.mammal.org.uk.

To read previous Species of the month, please click on the links below:

February – Flamingoes

March – Hedgehogs

April – Yellow Wagtail

May – European Turtle Dove

June – the Migrant Hawker dragonfly

July/August – Gatekeeper butterfly

September – Red Squirrels

October – Bats

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