There is no doubt about it – winter is not coming – winter is here. The frost is starting to take a grip, the trees are bare, and the footpaths are absent of the normal hubbub of the wildlife scampering around in the undergrowth. We have now entered the long haul to next spring for the wildlife that abounds in our hedgerows, woods and fields – food is scarce and temperatures are low.
There are a number of tactics that can be employed to get a little creature through this lean period. First up is to migrate to a warmer location, another is to stick it out on stored food reserves, and what is still available, whilst another is to sleep the winter away and hibernate.
Dormice are smart, and they are way ahead of the game. More prevalent in Southern England – you may be lucky enough to spot them on either our South Downs Way walking holidays or our Cotswold Way walking holidays, they can also be found in Wales, but are absent from Scotland. These nocturnal animals will have started their hibernation – also known as torpor – way back in October in the base of a hedgerow, or a hazel coppice, which is thought to be their more traditional habitat.
This little furry creature is nocturnal, and will enter a state similar to hibernation, known as torpor, during the colder months of the year, from around October to May. As well as being nocturnal it is highly secretive and is hardly ever seen as it spends its time in the branches of trees. Found in deciduous woodland, often with bramble and honeysuckle, hazel coppice is thought of as a traditional habitat.
Dormice build a nest like structure that will protect them from, not just the inclement British the weather, but also from predators such as owls, weasels, grey squirrels, and cats.
Their body temperature drops in line with the temperature of the air, but must be kept above freezing so that they survive. This drop in temperature is so dramatic that their metabolism reaches an ultra slow state, where it is just ticking over. They live off the fat deposits they have built up over months of feasting, however they need to be careful as this reserve has to last them up until they make their reappearance in Spring.
There is a National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, who are responsible for collating and inputting the records from around 400 dormouse monitoring sites across the UK. but if you’re worried about Dormice you can always adopt one!