Sleepy mammal has great agility
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.