The Mystery of the Disappearing Dormouse Boxes

Dormouse numbers have been in serious decline across the UK for many years, it is thought because of loss of habitat. They live in deciduous woodland especially scrub and hedges rarely setting foot on the ground. They are nocturnal, sleeping in a nest during the day and they also hibernate through the winter, hence their name – the sleeper mouse.

Friends of Quantock put up 12 dormouse boxes in a part of our woodland that is little used by people. At this time of year the boxes would be providing safe nesting places where dormice can have their young; there are usually four in the litter and they remain in the nest, relying on their mother, until they are about a month old.

Each box is fixed to the tree with wire at about 1.4m up and the dormouse climbs up or down the tree to get to it. The entrance is on the tree-trunk side of the box so they aren’t used by birds and it is harder for climbing predators like weasels to get into. The wire is let out as the tree grows to avoid damage to it.

The plan was to check the boxes once a month. When dormice are known to be present this has to be done by somebody trained and licenced, as they are legally protected. The results of checking would tell us how many dormice are in the area and whether we need to do things to help them.

Unfortunately, all of our boxes have been removed. They cost £10.79 each, but it’s difficult to imagine they could have been stolen and sold. They weren’t vandalised and broken or left on the ground, they have all been carefully detached and taken away. Were they removed to put up somewhere else? Did their new, unweathered look offend somebody? If dormice were in any of the boxes at the time, it is also a wildlife crime to disturb them. Either way it makes us very reluctant to replace them. The losers are the dormice.