We’re thrilled to announce that last week our RSPB Devon volunteer and wildlife photographer, Jo King, discovered a species new to the RSPB Exe Estuary reserves in Devon - she spotted a hazel dormouse grooming itself alongside one of the footpaths, whilst she was out photographing the local wildlife. This is the first time a dormouse, which are an endangered species across the UK, has been recorded on this reserve – we’re MEGA excited to say the least! And luckily it stuck around long enough for Jo to capture some incredible photographs - be prepared for a cuteness overload!
I asked Jo to tell me about her amazing experience – here’s what she said: “My main passion is bird photography so I’m often found wandering the Devon RSPB reserves with my eyes to the sky. But on this particular day the weather was fine and butterflies were out in extraordinary numbers, flitting and settling along the ground - so my eyes were on the path; bordered by tall seeded grass swaying in the breeze.
“Suddenly, something small, brown and fluffy caught my eye - clinging to a blade of grass right in front of me. As I edged closer it dropped down to the ground but didn’t run off. My heart started pounding and adrenaline kicked in – it was a dormouse! I’d never spotted one before, but had seen plenty of photos, and this tiny, ginger-coloured ball of fluff, with its thick, furry tail was unmistakable!”
(Love this photo of him stuffing his face!)
Jo’s discovery is particularly special because dormice are mainly nocturnal creatures and it’s really unusual to see them in broad daylight. In fact, the name ‘Dormice’ comes from the French word 'dormir' - meaning to sleep.
The first thing Jo did after making her brilliant discovery was to let our RSPB Site Manager of the Devon Reserves know - Peter Otley. Pete was obviously ecstatic too: “It’s fantastic that one of our amazing volunteers, Jo, has managed to record her fantastic discovery on film. This is a first for the RSPB Exe Estuary reserves and demonstrates how the careful management of our hedgerows and field margins can have such a positive effect on a wide range of wildlife. We’re really excited to be providing a home for another protected species and to be able showcase the wonderful wildlife that our reserves support at all times of the year.”
Our UK Dormice are in Trouble
Wildlife charity, People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), do a lot of work to help our UK dormice as they’re sadly in long-term decline both in terms of numbers and range across the UK. Over the last 17 years their population has declined by around 40% and dormice are now vulnerable to extinction in Britain. Once widespread across the UK, PTES’ 2016 State of Britain's Dormice report showed that they are have become extinct in 17 English counties since the end of the nineteenth-century. Dormice are classed as a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
The loss, inappropriate management and fragmentation of the ancient woodland, hedgerow and farmland habitats favoured by hazel dormice, are contributors to their current struggle. Changes to our environment with wetter summers and warmer winters also affect their access to food and ability to hibernate – again impacting on dormouse survival.
How Can We Help?
I contacted Ian White, PTES’ Dormouse & Training Officer, to ask him about the plight of the hazel dormouse and what we can do to help: “Without a doubt hazel dormice are one of Britain’s most endearing and cute mammals, but as they are small, live in the tree and shrub canopy and are usually active at night - they are rarely seen. And sadly these charismatic creatures are also vulnerable to extinction.
“Our dormouse conservation work involves managing a nationwide dormouse monitoring scheme, coordinating annual reintroductions and advising land owners about sympathetic land management practices. The reintroductions are important for the long-term conservation of this species, as we’re restoring dormice to counties where they’ve been lost so that they can thrive again. Our approach also benefits a whole raft of other species including birds, bats and butterflies. This is a great start in beginning to combat the dormouse decline.
“It can be difficult for people to get involved in dormouse conservation, but they can volunteer for practical work with a local conservation charity; contact a local dormouse group to see if there are opportunities to help monitor dormice; and support charities involved in the conservation of hazel dormice.”
For more information about dormice and PTES click here
How the RSPB Manage their Reserves for Wildlife
As a conservation charity we do a lot of work on our Devon reserves to create and manage a range of beneficial habitats for wildlife. RSPB’s Peter explained to me the measures his team take to help: “On the RSPB Exe Estuary Reserves our team sensitively manage the hedgerows for the benefit of the wildlife that call these special reserves home. Over the last few years we’ve planted new hedges and carried out hedge-laying. We’re extremely careful when it comes to cutting the hedges, as they’re invaluable high-ways and byways for wildlife, such as dormice, to travel safely across the landscape and forage for food.”
“We’ve also encouraged patches of bramble to thrive in our hedges – a juicy treat for a dormouse. And around the edges of the reserve’s hedgerows, we have created scrubby margins, which provide more diverse habitat for a range of wildlife. Now we know that dormice have made our RSPB Exe Estuary reserve their home we’re going to do even more to help them thrive in our little corner of Devon. ”
Jo's 'Momentous Experience'!
I’ll end this amazing good news story with a final few words from Jo: “I knew this was the most momentous experience I was likely to have for a very long time and in a split second I took a deep breath, lifted the camera and said, ‘Don’t mess this up Jo!’. I had a 100-400mm zoom lens with me so stood about two meters away and captured a few shots before the dormouse ran off. As always, I was very much aware of my responsibility - I must not touch, disturb or interrupt the wildlife I encounter, and I knew that hazel dormice are especially protected.
“But to my amazement the dormouse was really chilled – he sat nibbling the grass seed and grooming himself for over an hour – I was mesmerized! Eventually the dormouse jumped to the ground and crawled into the tangled grass and brambles. At which point I finally let out an emotional and fairly loud, ‘Wow’!”
All photos taken by Jo King. To find out more about Jo King and her photography work, click here.
Follow Jo on Twitter: @JoKingDevon
To find out how you can give nature a home, click here.
The RSPB are planning a major extension to the freshwater lagoon in front of their hide at Bowling Green Nature Reserve in Topsham, Devon. These works will create more habitat for the reserve’s wetland birds, encourage them closer to the hide and offer better views of the wildlife for visitors.
Photo by Rspemary Despres - family enjoying the view across RSPB Bowling Green from The Lookout Hide.
Tom Pace, RSPB Warden at Bowling Green nature reserve, said: “We are really looking forward to the arrival of the excavator so that we can start shaping the ground in front of our Bowling Green hide, to extend our freshwater lagoon and hopefully create some islands too. These changes will bring the wetland’s water closer to the hide and with it, the fantastic birds that call this reserve home.
“Visitors will enjoy spectacular close-up views of the birds and their interesting plumages and behaviours, without the need for a powerful scope or binoculars.”
“The works will also increase the area of water for dabbling and diving ducks and provide extra muddy margins for waders to feed. Some small islands will be created out in the water to provide refuges where the ducks and waders will feel safer at high tide. If we are lucky, the islands may also become nesting sites in the future.”
Work will start on Monday 3 July and possibly run until Friday 15 July (work will holt on the weekend of Sat 8 – Sun 9 July). A local earthworks contractor will carry out the project using an excavator and dumper, which could cause some initial disturbance to the reserve’s birdlife. However, now is the best time of year to carry out these works, as it is the end of the breeding season and before passage migration begins. The work has also been scheduled to coincide with low tides during the day so as to again to minimise potential disturbance to the birds on the reserve.
The RSPB’s Bowling Green hide and wildlife garden will be open as normal throughout this time, allowing visitors to watch the work progressing. But the RSPB advise that the public don’t plan any bird watching visits to the hide during the above dates.
The viewing platform at RSPB Bowling Green will also be open as normal and offers good views across the estuary.
Tom said: “We hope that this project will provide a richer wetland for the waterfowl at RSPB Bowling Green and also a greater wildlife spectacle for visitors to the reserve.”
For any enquiries please call site staff on: 07872814863 or 01392 833311
Photo 2 by Rosemary Despres - family enjoying the wildlife garden at RSPB Bowling Green Marsh
The RSPB in Somerset invite the public to enjoy their meadow-rich reserves with a special event at RSPB West Sedgemoor, in celebration of National Meadows Day. Saturday 1 July, 11.00 am-1.00 pm.
The annual National Meadows Day, dedicated to celebrating and protecting the UK’s vanishing wildflower meadows and the wealth of wildlife they support, will take place on Saturday 1 July 2017.
This year's National Meadows Day will be the biggest to date, with over 100 events taking place across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. People are encouraged to explore their local meadows and share their experiences. The RSPB in Somerset are celebrating the day with a special event at their West Sedgemoor nature reserve.
National Meadows Day is the headline event of Save Our Magnificent Meadows, the UK’s largest partnership project transforming the fortunes of our vanishing wildflower meadows, grasslands and wildlife. Over 97% of wildflower meadows have been destroyed since the Second World War, equivalent to an area 1.5 times the size of Wales.
Plantlife, supported by money raised by National Lottery players with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), is spearheading the project.
For more information visit: www.magnificentmeadows.org.uk/
Photo 1: Green-veined and speckled wood butterflies which call West Sedgemoor's meadows home. By John Crispin
Harry Paget-Wilkes, RSPB Site Manager, said: “RSPB West Sedgemoor has one of the largest expanses of flower rich hay meadows left in the UK. We have around 300 hectares of unimproved hay meadows on the damp peat soils, which are full of many different species of grasses, sedges, rushes and flowers.
“Early in the year these meadows are packed with plants such as southern marsh orchid, marsh marigold (kingcup) and lady smock or cuckoo flower. But now, at the peak of summer, these are replaced by taller plants including, meadow sweet, meadow rue, knapweed and meadow thistle. It truly is an idyllic sight.”
“As well as the plants, these meadows are a great habitat for insects and birds. Skylarks and reed buntings nest in the fields along with rarer species such as curlew and quail. RSPB West Sedgemoor also probably has the largest population of nesting snipe in lowland England all thanks to the fantastic meadows and the way they are managed. So we’re thrilled to be part of this year’s National Meadows Day celebrations and can’t wait to welcome you to our reserve.”
Photo 2: RSPB West Sedgemoor Site Manager, Harry Paget-Wilkes explores the reserves meadows. By David Kjaer (rspb-images.com)
Dragonflies and Butterflies on the Somerset Levels, RSPB West Sedgemooor Nature Reserve
Date: Saturday 1 July
Time: 11.00 am – 1.00 pm
Explore the fascinating worlds of dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies and discover some of the different species that call the meadows of the Somerset Levels and Moors their home. Sun hat, sun cream and a drink recommended.
RSPB members £4; Non RSPB members £6
RSPB child members £2; Non RSPB child £3
Booking essential on: email@example.com, or call: 07774 620879
For more information about the event, visit: http://bit.ly/2RSPBDragonfly
Abbie Thorne, RSPB Somerset Visitor Experience Manager, said: “Ever looked at a meadow on the Somerset Levels and wondered what creepy crawlies live there? Then our National Meadows Day event is your chance to discover the enthralling world of dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies from one of our expert volunteer guides. Not only will you discover incredible facts about these insects, but you can experience the splendour of our hay meadows in bloom and discover their importance in wildlife conservation”.
Photo 3: Wild flower meadows at RSPB West Sedgemoor, Somerset. By David Kjaer (rspb-images.com)