Winter tidying-up around the Wheatland Farm eco lodges often reveals dormouse or harvest mice nests like these ones.
We find the nests when we get the strimmer or the scythes out and start cutting back rushes from the big wildlife pond (main picture) and long grass and brambles at the field margins. The task is to make room for next year’s growth.
Actually, one of the pictured nests was found right next to Otter Cottage garden. So these amazing creatures are genuinely your neighbours!
And this isn’t the first time we’ve found evidence of dormice and harvest mice – nests routinely come to light in winter.
Don’t worry, the nest aren’t occupied right now. Dormice hibernate at ground level over winter, and harvest mice abandon their summer breeding nests and disperse along the hedgerows, so it’s fairly safe to be doing the work.
Of course, we’d always be careful with a low nest in case it’s still in use. Harvest mice could still have been active if it was back in November, and recent research suggests dormice aren’t quite so predictable in their winter habits as was once thought.
Brambles sometimes get a bad name, being seen as wild and wasteful, but actually they are bountiful….if a bit energetic. Our eco lodge guests love collecting blackberries, often these days even from as early as August (that’s climate change for you). And dormice love fattening up for winter on blackberries too. Earlier in the year a close look at brambles can reveal the fantastically coloured green hairstreak butterfly. And all sorts of birds from pipits to warblers make their nests behind the thorny barricades. But brambles do need an occasional haircut! Otherwise they would reach out and embrace everything.
So which nest is which? Harvest mice make beautiful tidy and compactly-woven nests in the ‘stalk zone’ of tussocky grasses. They don’t include leaves in their nests, which are generally between the size of a golf and a tennis ball.
Dormice make larger, looser nests, often incorporating some green material. Their breeding nests are off the ground in bramble or fairly low in shrubby trees.
Dormice generally wake up from their winter sleep around May, raise a family, then concentrate on feeding up for another long sleep in the autumn months. That’s when the nuts and berries come into their own again. There’s usually plenty to go around, and some for the autumn migrating thrushes too, when they’ve got tired of fallen apples.