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Searching for signs Young Ranger Benji Grundy studies hazelnuts for indications of dormice activity (Copyright Paul Brady)

Young Rangers go nuts for hazel dormice

Wednesday 14 October, 2020, by Benji Grundy

I was out with the Dales Young Rangers again last Sunday doing a survey on the hazel dormouse, looking at minibeasts and cutting back branches at the side of the footpaths at Aysgarth Falls.

I have been going to Young Rangers for nearly two years and love doing it. I have done many different things in lots of different places on task days, and I’m hoping to eventually do something similar job wise.

The hazel dormouse is a native but endangered species. Their population has declined by half in the last twenty years, and in order to preserve them nest boxes have been put out in the woodland next to the falls and we were doing a nut hunt to try and find signs of dormice.

Dormouse (Copyright YDNPA)

Dormice are rather sleepy creatures for most of the year, spending as much as six months of the year in hibernation. They eat hazelnuts and have a very specific way to get at the kernel within; so by looking at hazelnuts dropped under hazel trees or shrubs we can tell if there have been dormice around.

If you find a hazelnut with a neat round hole in the shell, about 8-10 mm across, then it’s probably been opened by a small rodent. If you look carefully at the marks on the hole, then you can tell whether it’s been opened by a dormouse, or a different type of rodent. Dormice leave very smooth holes in the nut, as opposed to voles or wood mice which leave teeth marks on the nuts, and squirrels and birds that simply crack the nut open, shattering the shell. We found several nuts that had been nibbled by dormice and were able to say that there were hazel dormice around.

Using a magnifying glass, a Young Ranger looks for signs of hazel dormice in discarded hazel nuts at Aysgarth Woods
Young Rangers look for signs of hazel dormice at Aysgarth Falls

Following the nut hunt, we got trays and collected leaf litter. We studied the insects and minibeasts amongst it, with the help of a simple, easy to use guide to identify the different species. We also learnt about how leaf litter releases nutrients into the soil and how the different species that live within it help the decomposition of leaves.

Young Rangers examining leaf litter in order to study the insects and minibeasts amongst it.
Young Rangers studying the insects and mini-beasts in leaf litter

After a lunch break, we got back to work. We went along the footpaths in the woods, cutting back vegetation that had overgrown the paths, making easier to walk through.

Finally, we had a walk down to look at the Middle Falls which were looking very impressive after the heavy rainfall the day before. Overall, it was a fun, interesting, enjoyable and educational day and I’m very much looking forward to the next one.

Young Rangers at Aysgarth Falls

Find out more

If you would like to come along to any of the meetings, please get in touch with Catherine Kemp, Education & Events Manager, on or 01756 75164. You can follow the Dales Young Rangers on Facebook

The new North and West Young Rangers groups are funded by BIG Lottery Fund through the Green Futures partnership programme led by Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust. Green Futures aims to empower and support young people in the Yorkshire Dales and the surrounding area to become more involved, aware and connected to the fantastic natural environment that’s right on their doorstep.

Green Futures is part of Our Bright Future, a £33 million programme funded by the Big Lottery Fund and run by a consortium of eight organisations which is led by The Wildlife Trusts. Our Bright Future aims to tackle three big challenges facing society today – a lack of social cohesion, a lack of opportunities for young people and vulnerability to climate change.

The Young Rangers group based in the South of the National Park is being part-funded through Stories in Stone, an ambitious four-year programme of conservation and community projects concentrated on the Ingleborough area developed by the Ingleborough Dales Landscape Partnership. The scheme is led by Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Picture of Benji Grundy

Benji Grundy

Fifteen-year-old Benji loves being outdoors. His passion for fell running, which he has been doing since he was seven, allows him to spend more time in the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District. Benji has been a Young Ranger for nearly two years and, prior to that, completed a John Muir Explorer Award. He recently become a Young Ambassador with local charity Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust and sits on the Green Futures Youth Forum.

2 Replies to “Young Rangers go nuts for hazel dormice”

  1. Rachel Wilson says:

    What sounds like a hazel dormouse spotted today by my neighbour fishing on the Wharfe below Otley .

  2. Casi says:

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