Sleepy mam­mal has great agility

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Countryfile -

For a cou­ple of years I have been help­ing check nest­boxes with Greg and Wendy Thomp­son for a rare and en­dear­ing mam­mal – the dor­mouse. When I say ‘help­ing’, I mean car­ry­ing the steplad­der and oc­ca­sion­ally hold­ing the bags! You need a li­cence to look in dormice nest­boxes and to han­dle them. This is sim­i­lar to the bat and great-crested newt li­cences. The com­mon dor­mouse is eas­ily recog­nis­able with its golden brown fur, big furry tail and very large black eyes. It has quite large feet to help it move with great agility through the canopy of trees. It has the ap­pear­ance of a tiny squir­rel rather than a mouse. Dur­ing the checks, if a dor­mouse is found in a nest­box, it can be mea­sured and weighed and the an­i­mal can re­main in a tight ball fast asleep. It is a noc­tur­nal an­i­mal that lives in the branches of de­cid­u­ous trees and, oc­ca­sion­ally, thick and tall hedgerows. It rarely comes down on to the wood­land floor dur­ing the sum­mer. Dormice make a win­ter nest un­der the moss and leaves at the base of a tree and only ap­pear late in the spring. While check­ing the 50 odd nest­boxes in the wood from spring to au­tumn, we are looking for nests made in the box by the dormice, of­ten made up of honey­suckle and grass strips, with a scat­ter­ing of green leaves. The word ‘dormice’ could have come from the French verb ‘dormir’ mean­ing ‘to sleep’. Al­though the Ox­ford Dic­tio­nary states the Old English word ‘dor­mouse’ mean­ing a sleeper dates back to the 17th cen­tury. This rare mam­mal caught the imagination of Shake­speare in Twelfth Night and Lewis Car­roll.

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