Please note that many of these articles were originally written for the old GB Wildlife site in between 2008 – 2010 and organisations may have changed since then.

How to : Help Save Endangered Dormice

© Kate Merry: Small Hazel Dormouse

© Kate Merry: Small Hazel Dormouse

This October, members of the public are being asked to help save the rare hazel dormouse by taking part in a nationwide survey of woodlands around the country. The Great Nut Hunt enlists the help of the public to ferret out gnawed nuts to determine the distribution and numbers of this rare woodland mammal.

The Great Nut Hunt is run by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and supported by Natural England.

To encourage would-be ‘nutters’ to take part in the survey, PTES has hidden 21 specially-commissioned nuts, 20 in silver and a single gold one, across counties in England and Wales.

“The best time to conduct the survey is over the autumn and winter when discarded nut shells are easiest to find on the woodland floor, before the leaf litter is too dense,” said PTES Chief Executive Jill Nelson. “The survey uses simple techniques requiring no specialised skills, making the Great Nut Hunt a fun activity for young and old ‘nutters’ alike as well as an ideal family expedition. With the help of the public, this year we hope to exceed the 250 000 nuts found in 1993!”

“Nut Hunts are a great way of monitoring dormice and this method has now been copied in other countries,” said Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England. “The nuts you send in really do make a difference to dormouse conservation by helping us understand how well dormice are surviving and where they still occur so that steps can be taken to ensure their long term survival. What better excuse to get out and enjoy our fantastic woodlands and help save these rare mammals.”

So, if you go down to the woods, make sure to look for signs of dormice and you may just find a gold nut!

To take part in the Great Nut Hunt 2009, which will run from October 2009 until March 2010, register online at Participants will receive a survey pack which contains more information about the silver and gold nut prizes and clues as to their whereabouts, as well as more information about the hazel dormouse, a recording form, the Countryside Code and guides on how to identify hazel tress and nibbled nuts.

The nutter’s guide to collecting nibbled nuts

1. Find some woods or large overgrown hedgerows near you

2. If need be, ask permission from the wood or hedgerow owner to conduct the survey

3. Look for hazel trees or shrubs and search underneath them for nuts

4. Collect nibbled nuts, recording the amount of time you spent searching and the number of people who searched

5. Sort out the collected nuts using our identification guide and fill in the survey form

6. Send your form and any nuts you think were opened by dormice to our Chief Nutter

To receive your free survey pack, including our guides to identifying hazel and gnawed nuts, visit:

Background information – Great Nut Hunt

© Thames Water: Dormouse in nesting box

© Thames Water: Dormouse in nesting box

Celebrating its 21st birthday this year, the first Great Nut Hunt was launched in 1993, with over ¼ million nuts being found by members of the public, of which 13 171 were submitted to PTES for verification. The second Great Nut Hunt survey, which took place in 2001, involved over 1 200 volunteer ‘nutters’ and resulted in over 50 000 nuts being found! As a result of this latter survey, 60 new dormouse sites were discovered, bringing the total of known sites nationwide to over 800. The wildlife charity is particularly keen for the public to search woodlands which haven’t been visited in the past to see if they can find any signs of dormouse presence as well as revisiting sites where dormice were located at the time of the last Great Nut Hunt to see if they are still there and to collect information about the quality of the woodlands.

Background information – dormice

Once widespread in England and Wales, the dormice are now vulnerable. Nationally they have disappeared from more than half of their historic range due to the loss and fragmentation of their habitat as well as their sensitivity to climate. In addition to being so rare, the hazel dormouse is a small, elusive, nocturnal, arboreal, hibernating mammal, making it a singularly difficult creature to spot!

The best indicator of their presence is opened hazel (Corylus avellana) nut shells on the woodland floor. Dormice open these nuts by making a neat round hole on one side, leaving characteristic toothmarks around the edge of the hole and providing a reliable method for identification. PTES can make use of these nibbled nuts to gather data about the presence or absence of dormice and improve knowledge about the distribution of the species as well as the general health of our woodlands and hedgerows.

The greatest threat to the survival of the dormouse species is the loss and unsympathetic management of hedgerows and ancient woodlands which provide their habitat, food source and means of dispersal. In particular, coppicing, the once widespread traditional method of woodland management in which trees and woody shrubs are regularly cut to stimulate new growth and good fruiting – creating an ideal habitat for dormice, has now almost completely disappeared. However, a renewed interest in coppicing is slowly gaining favour, not just for the purposes of benefiting wildlife conservation but also in its own right. PTES hopes that this change in attitude, along with conservation efforts and more wildlife-friendly woodland management methods, will lead to dormice being re-found in areas where they have become locally extinct.