RICHARD WILLIAMSON Nature Trails December 9

Dormice are back. Numbers this year increased dramatically in the woods.

Fifty nest boxes were put out for them and 21 of these were used during the spring and summer.

Broods of five young were discovered in one box, five in another, and six in a third.

This is terrific news for the Sussex Wildlife Trust which manages the West Sussex coppice at West Dean.

They lease the 40 acres of old hazel and oak woodland from West Dean Estate and have managed it since 1975.

Dormice are one of the key targets for their conservation programme during that time.

The years and years of work by volunteers has paid off for the sleepy little mammal the Germans call Haselmaus, and we call Hazel dormouse to distinguish it from that Roman delicacy the Edible dormouse which also occurs in our country.

The reason for the sudden increase in numbers is not just the proper management of hazel coppice.

This ensures new and vigorous regrowth on seven to eleven-year cropping.

Certainly they have benefited from the resulting bumper hazel nut harvest.

Certainly they have found the placing of nest boxes on the optimum crop zone, the interface between mature coppice and more open bramble and young shrub areas to their liking. Certainly they have enjoyed squirrel-free zones.

Those pests are controlled since they damage trees, eat birds’ eggs and young and take more than a fair share of the hazel nuts.

But there is something else, which is perhaps explained by climate change.

Warm wet summers just lately have caused a population crash of another major competitor, the yellow-necked mouse.

Together with the wood mouse, it has all but vanished from the woodlands.

It used to infest this house, and to keep the yellow-necked mouse at bay I have had to trap it and often caught 30 a year under the floorboards.

They enjoy chewing electric cables among other treats.

They also enjoy making nests in my Morris where their taste in electric cable was also demonstrated.

But for the past 18 months there have been very few, and this has given the dormouse, which is harmless to humans, a chance to regain a foothold back into the ecological scene.

EU law banning their disturbance in woodlands during the summer may have helped as well.

Meanwhile they are back. I do what I can for them in my garden, allowing hazel bushes, brambles, honeysuckle, clematis to flourish. They even come on to my bird table to eat wheat.

I do hope they are here to stay. Meanwhile, you too could help to bring them back if you live near woodland.

Let your place go a little wild: dormice are much more interesting than velvety lawns and foreign shrubs.