Is there a glis glis in your attic?
Baron Rothschild was renowned for the extensive zoological collection he built up at his family’s estate in Tring. But while the baron earned the respect of many naturalists for his wide-ranging collection, part of his legacy is now starting to cause real
FYOU live in the Chilterns and you start to hear strange rustlings emanating from your attic, you might be forgiven for thinking that pigeons, mice or squirrels might be behind them since these animals often seek shelter in the eaves of our homes.
But increasingly, people are discovering that the visitor might not be any of those but, instead, the glis glis – otherwise known as the fat or edible dormouse.
Not a particularly decorative name, you might think, for a little creature that certainly looks cute and cuddly – rather like a chubby, six-inch long squirrel, complete with grey-brown fur, bushy tail and huge eyes.
But several homeowners in the area have begun to discover that the glis glis is anything but a welcome house guest.
The glis glis can cause major damage to any home it chooses to inhabit. It destroys wooden beams by chewing on them, gnaws its way through electrical cables, creating a very real fire risk and creates an unpleasant smell from its droppings.
I’d never heard of a glis glis until very recently, so I decided to do a bit of digging to discover the background to these small vandals.
They were originally imported into the United Kingdom at the turn of the 20th century by Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, the son of Nathan Mayer Rothschild, who founded the NM Rothschild merchant bank in London. Lionel Rothschild had no interest in following in the family tradition and becoming a banker, proudly announcing at the age of just seven that he intended to open a zoological museum.
He started by collecting insects and butterflies and by the age of 10, his collection was filling much of the family home.
As a 21st birthday present, his parents granted him a plot of land on the family estate where he began in earnest to collect zoological samples from all over the world. At its largest, Rothschild’s collection included 300,000 bird skins, 200,000 birds’ eggs, 2,250,000 butterflies, and 30,000 beetles, as well as thousands of specimens of mammals, reptiles, and fishes. They formed the largest zoological collection ever amassed by a private individual.
Rothschild was famously pictured sitting on the back of a giant tortoise and once travelled to Buckingham Palace in a carriage pulled by a team of zebras. He was nothing if not eccentric!
On his death, the entire collection was bequeathed to the British Museum.
He is originally believed to have imported six glis glis, which were fairly common in central and southern Europe.
How some of them escaped into the wilds of Buckinghamshire is not clear but they quickly established a small colony in the Chilterns which today is believed to number around 10,000.
Glis glis hibernate for a large part of the year, sleeping for as long as six months over the winter.
The ‘edible’ part of their common name derives from the Romans who treated the little creatures as tasty snacks and farmed them.
The dormice were caught in the autumn when they were at their fattest and kept in ceramic urns while they were fed all kinds of nuts and fruit to fatten them up still further. They were then roasted and dipped in honey.
Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild collected a vast array of animals and imported glis glis – the edible dormouse, pictured – into this country , so don’t be surprised if you encounter any