Wight Conservation - Dormouse
The Dormouse is the most elusive and the least seen of all the mammal species on Wight Conservation’s estate. It is, however, believed to reside in all our woods and has been found in gorse on Idlecombe Down. In the UK, only on the Isle of Wight are squirrels and dormice found in the same woods.
Habitat is dictated by food supply. Fruits of hazel, blackthorn, ash, hawthorn, sycamore, elder, yew, honeysuckle and bramble are all popular but mostly they are only available between August and October. During this period the Dormouse increases its body fat, and generally commences going into hibernation in October.
Hibernation lasts until April/May. When the mice wake, the food supply can still be scarce so they rely on flowers and, later, fruit of their host trees and shrubs. Should life become difficult during this period, they enter into torpor - a semi hibernation.
The Dormouse prefers to live on the woodland edges, where their food sources prosper from the greater amount of sunlight. It is seldom found at ground level and spends most of its time high up in the tree canopies. It thus depends on aerial walkways, not only between its feeding sources, but also across paths and rides.
An ideal habitat is mixed broadleaf woodland, offering good walkways high in the canopy, and a well developed hazel under storey and shrub layer. Conifer does not provide habitat, and too much of it in a wood serves only to cause fragmentation and restrict mobility.
Conifer plantations and poor, or non existent woodland management, are the main reasons for the Dormouse’s population decline. Wight Conservation’s woodland management prescriptions are very much in favour of the species.
Instead of the shorter 7 or 8 year rotation cycle, we coppice every 15-18 years so that the mature hazel can provide an abundant food source. About 1 acre coups at a time are coppiced and they are left to develop until an adjacent coup is coppiced. This staggers the temporary loss of food sources around the woodland.
Ride creation and widening, with scallops and glades, and our thinning policy, allow more sunlight to enter the woods and thus encourage the Dormouse’s food sources to develop. Thinning, when poorly formed or less developed trees are removed giving more space for others to mature, allows in more sunlight. It is carried out on a 7-10 year rotation, thus allowing the hazel under storey to develop and the shrub layer to mature enough to grow sufficient food.
Aerial corridors are vital for the Dormouse. All Wight Conservation’s rides have pinch points every 100 yards or so, where the Dormouse can cross from one sector of the wood to another. Thinning is planned so that the overall tree canopy still continues to connect.
Blocks of conifer effectively cause woodland fragmentation and reduce the Dormouse’s foraging range. Hence corridors are being cut through the areas of conifer plantations, allowing the broadleaf under storey to develop and thus provide communication corridors throughout the wood. In consequence, the freedom of the whole wood is opened up to the Dormouse.
Although we frequently see signs of the Dormouse within our woods, we have never seen one on our property. That does not matter, as we know that under Wight Conservation’s management, the Dormouse has an ideal habitat in which to flourish.