CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Devon Life today CLICK HERE

Life on the edge

PUBLISHED: 09:00 29 November 2014

A torpid dormouse, photographed by Kate West

A torpid dormouse, photographed by Kate West

Archant

Matt Parkins takes an inquisitive look at the wild side of Devon

Will we find one this time? Will there be more than one? Three times a year I ask myself these questions as I creep quietly through small woods and copses on the edge of Dartmoor.

It’s been raining this week – and that’s just one of the challenges for the small mammals that use our nest boxes. Frequent downpours reduce foraging opportunities.

For me it started several years ago when I became a founder member of a volunteer group surveying for the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme and, after all this time, the excitement of seeing those sparkling eyes peering from the darkness never dies away.

It can be frustrating though. Squatters in the guise of blue tits, wood mice, pygmy shrews or even bees find refuge in our boxes, but today we are looking for the hazel dormouse. This endangered creature clings to life with skill and determination.

I sometimes wonder why dormice choose to live here, in these woodlands on the fringe of Dartmoor. High altitude and unpredictable weather threaten their survival, and yet the irrepressible creatures live on. As hibernators they need to gain weight before the long winter sleep, but that isn’t always easy thanks to our fickle climate. Hazelnuts are the favourite food for dormice.

Occasional discarded shells, skilfully opened with characteristic tooth marks, tell me that dormice live here. No nuts? How about a tree flower, an unsuspecting caterpillar or a few berries?

Since coming face to face with these little friends I can’t help admiring their resilience and creativity. But what really sets them apart is their ability to become torpid, slowing down to a point where they are neither hibernating nor awake, curled in a tight ball with furry tails over their heads. They tend to live longer than other small mammals; maybe five times longer than a wood mouse, so could this be a lesson for us? Save energy, burn fewer calories, rest for the winter, wake up, climb trees, find food and get warm again.

I feel privileged to be permitted to handle these creatures and I can get quite attached to individual dormice and their families; willing them to get safely through the winter. At great risk to herself, one of our females had a late autumn litter of four last year. She left it rather late. Will they make it through the winter? I don’t know, but I can’t wait for spring to find out if they manage to cling onto their life on the edge.

Licensed dormouse survey volunteers in Devon, and across the country, continue their methodical work and provide data for the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme. The data is sent to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and used to assess the health of dormice across the country which, in turn, provides a picture of the health of our woodlands.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Devon Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Devon Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Devon Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Devon is particularly stunning at this time of year and so we’ve picked out 18 stunning pictures that encapsulate the county during the festive period

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

From cosy pubs galore to winter beach walks, there’s plenty to enjoy in Devon at Christmas. We list 19 reasons you should come visit us this December.

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Devon is a joy to explore with its beautiful beaches, pretty woodland and charming towns and villages. Made even more magical under a blanket of glistening frost, we pick 12 walks to blow away the cobwebs in the county this winter

Read more
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A South Devon walk along a wreck-rich coastline with SIMONE STANBROOK-BYRNE

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

In the latest of our 24-hour tours of Devon’s best locations, we head to Britain’s Ocean City

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

With breathtaking beaches, rolling countryside, stately homes and unique villages, it’s no wonder high-profile film productions flock to Devon - how well do you know the movies that have set up camp here however?

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Whether it’s on our beautiful beaches, in our magnificent moors or within our stunning stately homes, film productions are constantly setting up in Devon. Here are 16 that you might not know used the county as a filming location

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

From angry spirits to headless horses and ghoulish monks, Devon has more than a few supernatural stories to get your skin crawling. We have picked 11 haunted places in the county

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

October is the perfect time to discover the joys of Exmoor. Jennette Baxter of Visit Exmoor suggests five great ways to enjoy autumn on the moor

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Wild camping can be one of the best ways to escape the crowds for a night or two and lose yourself in the landscape - SOPHIE PAVELLE chooses her five favourite places to ‘wild-life’ camp in Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

From sandy beaches and lighthouse-topped cliffs to views of the Jurassic Coast, the Devon coastline offers many perfect locations for a seaside walk. We pick 10 of the prettiest routes to take

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Take our quiz to find out how well you really know Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

As the weather starts to warm up and the Devon countryside beckons, LIZZIE JANE of the National Trust in the South West offers plenty of walk ideas for you to try. Whether you want a relaxed Sunday stroll or a more strenuous hike, here are 10 walks across Devon (and beyond) to help you escape the crowds and head off the beaten track

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The South West Coast Path is celebrating 40 years by calling on people to help raise £40,000. To show their support, teams from Devon’s top tourist attractions are preparing to take to the trail. CHRISSY HARRIS finds out more

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy



Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search