Date of release: Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Mammal Society ConferenceMany nesting boxes put up to help conserve dormice, a European protected species, may need to be placed higher in the tree canopy, according to new research from the University of Greenwich.

Sam Bower, an MSc Environmental Conservation student, erected 49 nesting boxes in the canopy of mixed ancient woodland near Canterbury, Kent. He discovered that the local population of dormice preferred to nest above three metres.

“We need to do more work, but these findings could be significant in helping our efforts to conserve and support dormice populations,” says Mr Bower. “It is currently standard practice to put nesting boxes in trees around one and half metres to two metres off the ground.

“Dormice are very popular, but we may not know as much as we think about these nocturnal tree dwellers and more research is needed. For example, they are said to prefer to stay in the canopy but there is growing evidence they may visit the ground more often than previously thought.

“It is very easy to make assumptions about these small animals, such as the best heights for nesting boxes, with limited scientific evidence to back them up. It will be interesting to see if further research confirms that dormice generally prefer higher-rise living. ”

Mr Bower, currently a field ecologist with Greenspace Ecological Solutions and a countryside ranger with the National Trust, was one of three University of Greenwich students invited to present their research to this summer’s Mammal Society Student Conference.

He was joined by Kelly Lam, who has been analysing the pellets of barn owls, another protected species, around Crossness Nature Reserve, part of Erith Marshes – one of the last remaining areas of grazing marshland in Greater London.

Ms Lam, who graduated in Forensic Science last summer, undertook the barn owl research as a postgraduate placement and is now planning to study Environmental Conservation.

“I have always been interested in zoology and ecology and this research gave me real hands-on experience. The barn owls were eating field and water voles, shrews and mice but also quite a lot of beetles,” she says.

Joanna Robertson, also a Forensic Science graduate, told conference delegates about the genetic markers which may help distinguish between three microbats with very similar appearances but using different echo-location frequencies.

She says: “It is almost impossible to tell these protected bats apart on physical appearance or the sounds they make. However, once you start looking at the DNA there are indications of useful distinctions. More work is needed but I am hopeful this approach will provide a solution.”

All three of the students worked on their research with Dr Debbie Bartlett, the university’s Principal Lecturer in Environmental Conservation.

“I am delighted that three of our students were selected to present their research at this important national student conference. Their work built on long-standing research programmes at the university, which takes a very hands-on approach to environmental conservation,” she says.

“We are working with European protected species, which has to be done under licence. As a licence holder I am able to involve my students in the research programmes and take them out in the field at least once a month,” Dr Bartlett adds.

Environmental Conservation is the first MSc programme to be awarded accreditation from the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM).

Story by Public Relations