Summer is normally a very busy time for our group as we strive to improve survival prospects for wildlife and the natural world. Two of these wildlife species are small in size but huge in value. They are birds and dormice and our work this year to assist them is described as follows.
In the time we were spending in ‘lock-down’ from March to June this year our feathered friends were getting on with their normal lives and undertaking their annual mating/breeding cycle. This was especially evident at the small nature reserve at Talbot Field in Hassocks. Here in August 2019 the number of bird boxes were increased all around the site.
One of the boxes newly installed in summer 2019.
This year at the end of their breeding season, group volunteers returned to clean out the debris and old nests from each box. This allowed further use to be made of them either as a late brood this year or in readiness for spring next year.
Locating the boxes can be difficult amongst the foliage.
The old nests can harbour pests like mite or maggots which flourish on old droppings. For the boxes not to be cleaned out can allow these species to multiply deterring their use as attractive residences for future breeding by birds.
Varying sizes and shapes of boxes attract different bird species.
Each box was visited in turn and duly cleaned out. Every box in the reserve was found to have been used and contained an old nest.
Each one is emptied and cleaned out.
The nests were mainly from species like nuthatches, blue tits and great tits and proved the area was a location valued by wildlife and provided enough natural food to support the raising of their young.
Care had to be taken that the prevailing wind was blowing away from the volunteer…
…otherwise the contents were generously dispersed in their direction.
The whole nests contained were easily removed…
…but the debris beneath was sometimes difficult to dislodge.
This continuing effort to assist our wildlife to survive and flourish extended also to the monitoring of our dormouse boxes which are erected in woodlands across our local countryside.
A dormouse box is checked by a licenced volunteer.
These boxes encourage the survival of these now very rare mammals in this country where any breeding presence detected is a huge reward for the conservation effort expended. Often signs of their previous box visits are the only indication of an area presence such is the elusive nature of the species.
‘Lock-down’ due to the coronavirus robbed us of many valuable months of monitoring these boxes this year when any presence would have been at its highest to detect. Never-the-less we resumed in late summer when restrictions were lifted and were able to visit all boxes monthly to record their occupancy.
Boxes are mounted throughout local woodlands and can be difficult to locate…
…so maps are drawn of the area and the numbered box locations added.
Due to the lack of earlier checks any box that had been used by blue tits for nesting (and there are usually many) their redundant nests after the broods have flown were not cleaned out as normal to allow use by dormice. We therefore knew that this would mean a lean year for dormouse sightings and this is how it proved to be.
The checking volunteer is always accompanied by a helper who records the findings.
Each box found is removed into a bag for closer examination so that any quick-footed mouse inside cannot escape.
The checking party can walk many miles to achieve these results but the surrounding beautiful woodlands make the task a pleasurable experience.
Any box checked has a plug placed in the entrance hole initially…
…which remains in place until the box is examined.
When the check is completed the box is placed back on the tree.
We did find many wood mice nests which compensated to a degree, for even though they are not rare they are an endearing addition to our woodlands.
One of the boxes found containing a wood mouse nest.
Another wood mouse nest carefully built.
This one contains a number of eaten nut shells…
…and this one has become a food store.
We also found boxes damaged by our old adversary the grey squirrel who is responsible for destroying the majority of our tawny owl boxes. This dormouse box had a nest in and was badly damaged by the squirrel intent on getting to it. The one pictured below was removed and repaired by one of our skilled volunteers before being returned to site.
Squirrel damage found on one box…
...which when repaired, the damage could not be detected when returned to the wood later.
The checks should have continued monthly from April until November but we missed half of the season and this was reflected in a poor year for dormouse sightings. Hopefully results will be better next year.
We thank all the various volunteers who have formed the teams necessary to undertake this work which is very time consuming and needs checkers, helpers and result recorders to undertake. We are also very grateful to our skilled engineer Alan Murray, who miraculously is able to repair damaged boxes to a level that makes them appear almost new again. His expertise underpins so many of our projects and he is highly valued and appreciated for this effort.
Alan fixing a box.
Thanks to his dedicated preparation of new boxes, a further 80 are ready to be fitted in other woodlands early next year where encouraging signs have been found, in readiness for the dormouse breeding season.
He was presented with a group award for this outstanding effort in 2010 and has maintained his level of commitment since which has helped us enormously in all our projects.
The original award justifiably earned for years of commendable help.