Volunteers needed for a new dormice survey!

This summer we will be using a new, non-invasive technique - footprint tunnels - to look for dormice in a Northamptonshire woodland. Local volunteers will be needed on the ground but volunteers from anywhere can help identify the footprints.

Northamptonshire is the northern edge of the hazel dormouse’s range in southern England, it is relatively unsurprising therefore that at some sites they are present at low densities. This can make monitoring them using traditional nesting boxes and tubes difficult as these methods rely on the dormouse either building a nest in a box/tube or being present when they are being checked.

Footprint tunnel

Footprint tunnel by Alison Looser

Various groups have been trialling an alternative - footprint tunnels - all finding them successful at picking up evidence of dormice in both woodlands and hedges. Studies in Suffolk showed an overall detection rate of 97.5%, even at low densities, over just three months of surveying. As the tubes are temporary installations they can also be used in privately owned sites where landowners may not want permanent boxes (e.g. due to forestry works). Another benefit is that this method does not disturb any dormice and so does not require a licence making it a more practical method for volunteer groups with few licence holders.

Dormouse footprint

Dormouse footprint by Alison Looser

The idea is simple; a sheltered platform is suspended in the branches with inkpads and a sheet of cardboard inside. As the dormouse passes through it walks over the ink and leaves its footprints on the card. These cards are collected regularly and the footprints looked over to identify who was been through. Dormice leave a distinctive print with triangular shaped pads.

We will be installing these footprint tunnels at Brampton Ash Wood (same block as our Stoke Wood End Quarter nature reserve) in Northamptonshire this May. This woodland used to contain a native population of dormice but there have been no recent records from the boxes installed at the woodland edge. It is hoped that a small population survives and the footprint tunnels will pick up their presence.

I need your help for two jobs….

  1. I’m looking for volunteers that live nearby to help install the footprint tunnels in early May and then to help check the tunnels every fortnight (less often if enough volunteers) for at least three months. The check will involve checking the cards and replacing any that contain footprints or are damaged and also re-inking the inkpad.
  2. Cards with footprints will get labelled with the date and location and scans emailed to volunteers who want to help with footprint identification. This means that if you want to be involved yet live too far away you will still be able to help with footprint identification.

If you are interested in helping with either or both of these tasks please let me know (gwen.hitchcock@wildlifebcn.org). Thank you!