Award-winning dormouse film: Conserving Brampton's Indicator

Ellie Bladon tells us about the making of the short film "Conserving Brampton's Indicator" for the Back from the Brink film and photography competition

By Ellie Bladon

Ellie's film recently won the People and Nature category at the Back from the Brink/Wildscreen awards. This award is for "the production that most effectively explores and tells stories about the social, cultural or economic relationships people have with the natural world".

 

With their bright eyes and bushy tails dormice steal the hearts of any lucky soul that encounters them. Rodential features much maligned in rats and house mice can induce coos and squeals in even the greatest of stoics when glimpsed on the face of one of these tiny ginger fluff-balls. But most of us will never get the chance to be enchanted by the sight of a dormouse in real life. Mostly this is because they are masters of secrecy - they are nocturnal and arboreal, so unless you spend your time silently perched in a tree at night, you are unlikely to see them even if they are about.

However, a more regretful reason is that dormouse numbers have fallen dramatically, with a report from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species released in November 2019 showing that populations in the UK have declined by 51% over the last 19 years. Fragmentation of forests, declines in traditional woodland management, decreases in the connectivity of hedgerows, and unfavourable weather conditions brought on by climate change are some of the main drivers of the downturn in dormouse populations. While climate change needs to be addressed on a global scale for us to see any positive impacts, the other threats facing dormice can be mitigated by local management plans.

Brampton Wood is the perfect example of a woodland that is managed with biodiversity in mind, and it just so happens that it is the site of the UK’s first official dormouse reintroduction. Cambridgeshire isn’t known for its woodland and perhaps this is what makes the site so special to the communities around it – it’s rare, beautiful and ancient. In 1993 and 1994 it became more widely significant when populations of dormice were introduced into the wood. But that was by no means the end of the story, in fact it was just the beginning. Since those two introduction years the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Trust BCN have undertaken extensive programmes of habitat management and dormouse monitoring.

To find out more about this I spent six months in 2019 filming the people who ensure that the dormouse thrives in this wood. What started as a project to understand more about dormouse conservation and how local volunteers are key to this, grew into a film which explored how dormice in turn give back to those same communities. It turns out that dormouse monitoring isn’t just important for biodiversity conservation, it brings joy and purpose to the volunteers who give their time throughout the year to manage the habitat and monitor the boxes. Whether I was talking to school children making boxes, staff at the Wildlife Trust planning the monitoring season, or volunteers helping with habitat management, each person had a unique reason for caring about the dormice, and could tell me some way in which dormice made a difference to them.

My time with the team at Brampton Wood showed clearly how humans and nature are interconnected, and how by helping nature we can also help ourselves.

You can view Ellie's film here