In 2009 Goblin Combe Environment Centre took up a government grant to improve the habitat for the Hazel Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), which is a European protected species whose numbers are thought to have halved in the last 100 years. Initially small areas of woodland were cleared and replanted with the dormouse’s main food plant, hazel. However it was recognised that further work would need to be done to make a real difference to the numbers of dormice in the woodland.
The Environmental Centre contacted Jamie Edmonds, Environment Manager at Kier Services, who holds a dormouse licence, to help survey for the animals and gain a better understanding of what habitat improvements could be made. Jamie’s assistance proved invaluable and he now jointly runs the project and co-ordinates the monthly surveys. It is possible to join him on these. Places are limited but if you’d like to register your interest, please email Jamie at Jamie.Edmonds@kier.co.uk
Between September 2010 and September 2013, 75 dormouse boxes were built and placed in the trees around the combe. The boxes have been made by a variety of people and groups including a large number from the centre’s Woodwise Recovery Programme. The programme supports mental health service users of people engaged in alcohol and drug rehabilitation programmes, allowing them to learn new skills, thus increasing their confidence and improving self-esteem. Other boxes were made by conservation volunteers, young mums groups who were able to bring their children along and make boxes in the woods and Kier Services staff in their spare time.
In an effort to help reduce and minimize waste from construction sites at Kier, unwanted plywood was saved for the dormouse project so that it could be used to make the boxes. Projects from all over Somerset and Bristol donated wood too, allowing many boxes and spare parts to be made.
In 2011 the project reached it’s target of 50 boxes in place in the woods, which allowed the centre to join the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme run by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species. The monitoring programme collates data from over 330 sites across the UK on to a national database, which provides valuable information on species numbers as well as other factors such as location and habitat.
Dormouse surveys are carried out monthly during the dormouse active season (March – November) and the autumn of 2011 also saw the first dormice using boxes across the site, with both day time nests and maternal nests being built.
Whilst poor weather limited the number of dormice found nationally in 2012, the project remained a success and two training courses on dormice were run for the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, allowing members of the public from all over the country the opportunity to help put up additional dormouse boxes, survey the existing boxes and learn about the natural history of the species as well as observing and discussing other fauna and flora at Goblin Combe. The success of these days was even reported as a feature article by the BBC Wildlife Magazine in September 2013 after one of their writers attended one of the surveys.
Goblin Combe recognises how privileged it is to have this fascinating creature in the woodland and aims to work collaboratively with Avon Wildlife Trust, who also run a smaller dormouse project in the combe, to share knowledge and align habitat management. The dormouse is at the heart of the woodland, providing a vital link in the ecosystem and the promotion of the natural environment to all those who visit us.