This afternoon I joined David Anderson to check some Dormouse boxes in the Studham area. David kindly invited me to accompany him in anticipation of encountering my first live Edible Dormouse. It turned out to be quite a memorable experience....
After checking a number of boxes and finding them empty apart from the odd bird's nest, it was beginning to look as if my hopes wouldn't be realised but then, as David tapped a box in the midst of a young Hazel shrub, we heard the distinctive chuntering sounds of an Edible Dormouse! My excitement grew as we released the box and emptied its contents into the large plastic bag and….hey presto:
Fantastic!! We managed to get the animal into a plastic jar where we spent a few minutes examining it. You can make out some of the classic features: the large black eyes, whiskers and bushy tail.
Releasing the Edible Dormouse from its temporary captivity, David warned me to stand back...
...suddenly, everything went awry and mayhem ensued as the animal ran out of the jar, scampered over to David and disappeared up his trouser leg!!!!!! This all happened in the blink of an eye. David leapt back in alarm, clutching his trousers tightly below the knee (good job he didn’t react more slowly!) and, not being a journalist, I dropped the camera and ran over to help him, feeling quite helpless it has to be said!
David was now showing remarkable restraint and gradually squeezing the Edible Dormouse back down his trouser leg. Suddenly it reappeared and, alarmingly, bounded straight towards me, resulting in an impromptu and desperate dance in an effort to avoid the same fate!
Fortunately, it obviously realised that there must be easier trees to climb, turned sharply about, ran across the path and disappeared behind a young Holly tree where, approaching slowly and peering round with some trepidation, we found that it had disappeared into thin air!
This is one encounter that I’m never going to forget….and I don’t think David will, either. There were a few scratches on David’s lower leg, but it could have been so much worse, and we were able to laugh about it. I have to say that it was more of an adrenaline rush than any of the rides at Alton Towers!
A few boxes further on we found more signs of Edible Dormouse activity with these 'burrs' and nibbled Beech-nuts!
[Note: In recent years, David has recorded several Edible Dormice present in these boxes early in the Autumn. They are all juveniles which have become independent and found that they can squeeze through the holes. An adult would be too big to do this. This is the only place in the country where Edible Dormice are using Dormouse boxes. There used to be Hazel Dormice present in the wood we were surveying, but they haven’t been recorded for some years, most probably having been displaced by their larger cousins]