The Common Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) is small, bright golden coloured with a thick furry tail and big black eyes. It spends three quarters of their life asleep but still manage to be one of the most evocative creatures of its native home of deciduous woodland and thick, overgrown hedgerows. It is thought to prefer mixed hazel coppice woodland which provides a varied diet throughout the year.
They feed on flowers, particularly the pollen, which is important. Bramble provides both pollen in the spring and berries in the autumn. Fruits, hazelnuts, beechmast and sweet chestnuts, as well as aphids and other small insects. Hazel, honeysuckle, bramble and oak are probably the most important food sources.
They are extremely difficult to see, being shy creatures, however at this time of year you may see signs of their feeding especially under hazel coppice. Dormice gnaw into hazel nuts slowly with their small teeth, turning the nut as they work. The result is a round or slightly oval hole, usually in the side of the nut. Around the hole there are often tooth marks at an angle to the hole. The cut face of the hole is scooped smooth, and slopes steeply towards the centre of the nut.
The Dormouse is considered to be in decline and extremely vulnerable, however recent studies show a small slow down in this decline in some areas. Climate can have a big impact on the Dormouse, firstly altering the time of emergence from hibernation, but also on the availability of its food. The low population density of Dormice and its extremely slow rate of population increase make the Dormouse highly vulnerable to any change in its environment.
Dormice have evolved to exploit woodland for both food and to breed. Woodland is just one of the habitats which determines the character of the High Weald landscape. The Management Plan, written specially for the AONB, sets out targets (which encourage everyone) to enhance the ecological function of woodland. Best practise forestry guidelines (target h) are needed to secure the long term future of dormice habitat.
In the spring and summer there may be events across the High Weald monitoring Dormouse in the woodlands.
More information about dormice