Canny Hart works in our welfare team and is currently working towards The Donkey Sanctuary’s Diploma. This is an in-house qualification that in part encourages staff to step out of their normal day to day environments. Canny recently joined me on a foray and writes about how the module she chose led her into the woods.
D is for donkey. Usually it is when you work at The Donkey Sanctuary, however, in my world (temporarily) D has not been for donkey, but for dormouse. Delicate, delightful but disturbingly devastatingly in decline.
Seeing a dormouse has long been on my bucket list and last week, despite having worked at the Sanctuary for many years, and having lived in the beautiful Devon countryside for many more, along came perhaps a little surprising first for me. It was a first that left me feeling privileged and honoured. A first that delighted my middle-aged awareness giving me a greater appreciation of all things bright and beautiful and all creatures great and small. My very first and long awaited encounter with a dormouse!
Just over a year ago, I was given the opportunity to do The Donkey Sanctuary’s Diploma. One of the development link modules that I chose for my Diploma was Wildlife and the Environment and this is how I found myself to be down in the woods, taking part in another one of several dormouse box checks that I have been fortunate enough to attend over the past 12 months.
Recognising that all guardians of our countryside have a responsibility in protecting the environments of endangered species, several years ago The Donkey Sanctuary, under the expert guidance of Devon Mammal Society’s Adrian Bayley, and in line with the National Dormouse Monitoring Program, permitted 50 wooden boxes be placed on carefully chosen trees 20 metres apart in our woodland. The boxes being regularly monitored between May and October, but somewhat rather disappointingly and on only one occasion was a dormouse found to be in residence.
During the winter the boxes were relocated, in an 'S' shaped transect to a different part of the woods, in the hope that more dormice would be found and their numbers and basic biometric data could be recorded and reported to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species.
The first check of these newly sited boxes delivered a whole host of wildlife including marsh, blue and great tit nests complete with beautiful and perfectly uniformed clutches of eggs. In one a wood mouse nest, complete with disgruntled male wood mouse and in another a huge queen hornet who had taken up residence. A timely reminder to take care when checking the boxes, with many creatures having the equivalent to a time-share in them you never know what you may come across!
Early purple orchids, bluebells, a roe deer and most significantly the beginnings of a dormouse nest were just some of the other delights to behold on this visit, but alas still no dormice.
That was until last Friday when back down to the woods we went. Filled full of hope, off we went to find the first box, number 1. Slipping and sliding on the rain soaked bluebell leaves we clambered up a steeply sloped rise until the box came into sight. A bright yellow duster was used to plug the hole at the back of the box stopping any of the inhabitants from escaping before being recorded. Bright yellow because it lessens the chances of it getting accidentally left behind in the woods. Carefully we lifted the lid to reveal an untidy nest of dried leaves. Messy nests made from a mixture of materials such as moss and leaves (with no weaving) are commonly made by a wood mouse. So without any expectation of a dormouse living in this box, you can imagine our complete shock, surprise and then overwhelming joy when out popped the beautiful and inquisitive little face of dormouse! An 18g male dormouse to be precise with a white tip to the end of his thick furry tail.
Quite amazingly, this little chap was not the only one to be found during this round of checks. Box number 30 also bore the gift of a dormouse and several of the other boxes contained juvenile marsh tits at varying stages of being ready to fly the nest.
We could not be more thrilled that the delicate, delightful dormice who reside within our beautiful and unspoiled woodland, seem to be giving us the thumbs up on the new location of their little wooden homes and we hope that they will continue to thrive in the sanctuary that we are providing for them.
Who knows what we will find when we return to the woods next month. Between now and then 'D' will once again be for donkey and I will return to my desk with the wonderful memories of meeting my very first dormouse etched in my mind for a very long time to come, grateful for the opportunity that I have been given through The Donkey Sanctuary’s Diploma, and with an immense feeling of pride that we are really trying to provide a sanctuary for all.
For more information on dormice, please visit the Devon Mammal Group website.
Welfare and Training Co-ordinator