By Laurie Jackson
When I say the word Dormouse what springs to mind? Perhaps a snoozing guest at the Mad Tea Party? It is true the Germans call it the Schlafmaus (sleeping mouse) and its name is derived from the Latin word dormio (to sleep), but surely a Dormouse does more than just sleep?
Yes! Despite its annual hibernation, which can last six months, the Dormouse is a busy woodland mammal. Its large eyes, sensitive whiskers and agile feet equip it for life as a nocturnal tree-dweller. Dormice move around their small home range eating a variety of seeds, fruits, and nuts. Plants such as bramble, honeysuckle and hazel are particularly important as they help sustain them when little other food is around.
The West Weald, with its ancient woodlands linked by hedgerows, provides a perfect landscape for Dormice.
As you may imagine you are unlikely to stumble across a small mammal that rarely comes to the ground and is mostly active at night. Luckily, many West Weald woodlands contain lots of Hazel, which was previously managed by traditional coppicing. It just so happens that Hazel is very important to a dormouse; the calorie-packed nuts appearing just as their thoughts turn once again to hibernation.
And Dormice have a very particular way of eating hazelnuts that helps us to distinguish them from those nibbled by other woodland mammals such as mice and voles.