Ten years ago the RSPB took on Broadwater Warren near Tunbridge Wells and started a restoration programme of what had become a conifer plantation back in to native woods and heathland. It is a slow transformation but there are indications of success, including the gentle spread of dormice throughout the woods.
These nocturnal creatures hibernate over winter and spend most of the summer in tree branches. They strip bark from honeysuckle and other similar plants to weave nests under leaf litter, in brambles or sometimes in abandoned birds nests in trees. Special nestboxes have been installed at Broadwater to help our wardens and volunteers gain an insight into their presence. Once seen, dormice are hard to forget and must qualify for one of the UK's cutest animals.
Conservationist and Springwatch presenter Chris Packham once joked that dormice are one of the most boring UK species, as they spend so much time asleep or hidden from view you can waste hours trying to find them. He's right in that they are elusive and surveys can be very dull when all you find are empty nests!
After waking from winter hibernation, dormice feast on pollen, moving on through the year to seeds, berries and nuts with some insects on the menu too. The woodland restoration at Broadwater has involved coppicing to create clearings and sunlit glades where honeysuckle and other plants can thrive, providing ideal conditions for dormice and a range of other native wildlife.
Dormice remain vulnerable and rare. Loss or fragmentation of suitable habitat, and climate change are two of their biggest threats. This year's early warm spells brought some out of hibernation too early, ahead of the growth of essential food supplies, and some failed to survive the sudden return to freezing conditions.
ITV Meridian's Malcolm Shaw joined a survey team at Broadwater Warren to check some of the many nest boxes and came up trumps. You can watch his report here: bit.ly/2yqyGFF
Visitors would be very lucky to see dormice when walking around the reserve, but there's plenty more to see, including almost half of the UK's 45 different dragonfly and damselfly species, woodpeckers, woodlark, nightingale, treecreepers, adders, bumblebees and butterflies. There are a variety of orchids too, including these great bee orchids...
Broadwater Warren is open daily. There is no visitor centre but there is a small car park. Full details on how to find the reserve can be found on our webpages and there is a downloadable trail guide to help you navigate the 180 hectare site.
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