Last Thursday, Jack and I were doing another day of tree felling in the main woodland. This tree thinning is part of the natural winter cycle of sensitive management at UWNR and it produces woodland with more space, light and air. In turn, this gives rise to a healthier and more verdant woodland. A wonderful by-product of this thinning is the production of tons of brush – these we stack in long ribbons, which weave there way though the landscape (see pic below). These provide valuable habitat for invertebrates, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds. An example of this is the growth of the Wren population at UWNR – as the brush piles have expanded so has the population of this wonderful small bird.
As we were working, Jack noticed a woven nest deep in the middle of one of the old brush ribbons. We spent some time investigating it – we were concerned that it was occupied. We assessed that the leaves, moss and grass bark were old, dry and brittle – our conclusion; this was a nest from the winter of 2017 – 18. We very gently retrieved it and then slowly prized it open – it was empty. Given all the descriptions I have read and photographs I have seen, my immediate thought was that we had discovered a Dormouse (winter) hibernating nest. They are more tightly woven and bigger than their summer nests. Dormice favour situating these nests on the ground, in shade and amongst cover – this situation fitted all of those features.
In 2009, Sue Eden wrote a groundbreaking book called Living with Dormice – this book challenges much of the orthodox thinking, around this charismatic species. She states that Dormice are probably equally at home in a woodland setting with species like lime, ash and oak, as they are in hazel coppice or hedgerow. The nest Jack found was in the heart of native deciduous woodland – a mix of ash, oak, lime, and field maple. A fit with Eden’s findings.
The next step is to have expert verification of both Dormice nests (the summer nursery nest and the winter hibernating version), which have been found at UWNR in the past 6 months. Friends and ecologists, Gareth and Lisa, will do this in due course...so more to come!