Good morning, and welcome to our weekly programme about countryside matters. With me today I have Jacky Lamerton. Jacky works for the nature organization Action for Wildlife, and she’s appealing for volunteers for a project she’s organizing, so if you think you might be willing to help please listen carefully. Jacky …
Lecturer: Thank you. Yes … as you’ve just heard, I represent a charity called Action for Wildlife, which works to protect plants and animals. And I’m here today to talk about a project to save a type of mouse known as a dormouse. We can still find the dormouse in this area, but in the last few decades the number of dormice has seriously declined, not just in this country but across the world. There are several reasons for this – loss of habitat, climate change, competition for food – and this area of the UK is now regarded as one of the last strongholds. So naturally, we want to help the creature to survive here as much as we can.
The aim of the first stage of our project is simply to identify specific locations where dormice are still to be found, and estimate the number we have here. So I’ll just tell you a little bit about the creature, in case you don’t already know. The dormouse is a very attractive, very small mammal – it only weighs about the same as a couple of pound coins. It’s bright golden in colour, and it has a thick furry tail and big black eyes. Now, you’ve probably all seen a picture of a dormouse, but you’re very unlikely to have seen a real one because they’re strictly nocturnal. Also, they hibernate from October to April, so it’s not around at all for about half the year.
So where is the dormouse to be found? Well, dormice need to be near a variety of trees and plants, so they can be sure of a continuous supply of food throughout the spring and summer. They feed on flowers, pollen, fruit, insects, ripe nuts – things that are available in turn as the summer progresses. Here in the UK the dormouse is most likely to live in places like hedgerows, or woods, or at the edges of farmland.
So how do we find out exactly where dormice are? Well, as they’re hard to spot, as I said, we have to use indirect methods. Instead of trying to see dormice themselves, we look for evidence of dormouse activity. Dormice eat hazelnuts, so we’ll be looking for the shells that dormice have opened to get at the nut inside.
A lot of wildlife species eat hazelnuts – it’s not just dormice. But it’s usually possible to tell which particular animal has opened a nut by looking at the marks on the shells. So now, for those of you who would like to help us carry out this survey, let me tell you exactly what to do. You’ll need to get an identification sheet like this from us, then you should spend time looking for hazelnut shells in the bottom of hedgerows, or on the ground in woodlands.
If you find one, use the identification sheet to try and establish what kind of creature has opened it. You’ll see from the pictures on the sheet that different creatures do it in different ways. For example, you’ll see that insects make a small hole in the shell, less than 2 millimetres across. Then there’s another type of mouse called a woodmouse. Woodmice make a hole in the shell too, but they leave parallel tooth marks on the inner rim of the shell, as well as rough scratches on the surface. Thirdly there are little mammals called voles.
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