Of the two species of dormouse found in the UK, the hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) is the native species. Although most people know what a dormouse looks like, it is not often seen, owing to its rarity and nocturnal habits.
Over the last century the hazel dormouse has declined in both numbers and distribution in the UK. It is thought to be extinct in about half its former range and the total adult population numbers around 45,000. The current strongholds are Kent and Dorset, although the higher numbers reported in these counties are probably due to greater efforts to record them.
Up until 2011 there were no official records for dormice in Plumpton parish. There is currently no prime dormouse habitat left in the parish but we still thought it was worth surveying for them, given its national decline and conservation status.
So, working with several local landowners, we conducted a survey, concentrating on four areas that we thought might support dormice.
To conduct the survey we used nesting tubes, some bought from the Mammal Society and others that we made ourselves (from TetraPak drinks cartons donated by local residents), and installed according to English Nature guidelines.
What we found...
In three of the sites we found no sign of a dormouse: the tubes had been used variously as bird roosts and as larders and nests by other mouse species. But in the fourth site one of the tubes contained a lovely woven dormouse nest.
So, against the odds and our own expectations, in 2011 we were able to enter the first official dormouse record for the parish in the first year of our survey.
Encouraged by our success, in 2012 we surveyed three new sites. Although it was a very bad year for dormice, with two spells of prolonged wet weather, the survey went well. A new site in the south of the Parish yielded three nests.
So, from seven sites across the parishes, we can state with confidence that dormice, although rare, are still hanging on.
We started monitoring 2 sites in East Chiltington in 2017.
If you see any dormice, please tell us. We will gladly advise on habitat management. If you would like a hedge or woodland on your property surveyed, we would be pleased to consider including your site in future surveys.