Meet Paul Tillsley: dormouse monitor
In this series, we chat to the dedicated staff members, conservation partners and volunteers at PTES. We find out why each of them chose a career in wildlife conservation, what they find rewarding about their work and what they love most about what they do.
Dormouse monitor in Somerset and Devon
Tell us about yourself and the site you monitor
I’ve been fortunate to spend the last 23 years working full-time managing wildlife reserves that belong to the League Against Cruel Sports.
Many people are surprised to learn the League owns nature reserves, but they’re really special places for wildlife. I monitor six sets of 50 boxes on four sites, all on League reserves around the Exmoor area in Devon and Somerset.
How long have you been monitoring for?
After taking a Mammal Society dormouse course in Cheddar, I was lucky to find that Tina Donnelly (a local monitor who also bred dormice in her greenhouse as part of the captive breeding programme for the annual reintroductions) lived nearby. Tina let me shadow her so I could gain my licence in 2006. Since then I’ve been monitoring dormice on my own sites.
What’s the most memorable day you’ve had looking for dormice?
I’ve had two very memorable days in the past couple of years. Last winter, we put up 50 new dormice boxes in a wood that Sir Paul McCartney bought for the League, some 30 years ago. The wood was originally dominated by conifers, but we’re gradually converting it to native broad-leaved trees. It was so gratifying to open one of the new boxes in May this year to find three sleepy dormice inside.
The other incident was at a different site, last summer, and rather less pleasant. As I peered into one of the boxes, a swarm of very angry hornets flew out and started stinging my head. I think I broke the record for the 100-metre dash through woodland that morning!
Describe your woodland and what challenges you encounter there
The woods that I monitor are all very different from one another. One is a remnant Atlantic temperate rainforest, another is a plantation on ancient woodland site (PAWs), the third is a strip of scrub which borders a fir plantation on a rewilding project, and another is a young wood that was planted almost thirty years ago. They all have their challenges, whether it’s fighting the dense banks of brambles or balancing on steep, slippery slopes; or, on one occasion, disturbing a very disgruntled red deer stag.
Tell us something about you we wouldn’t expect from a dormouse monitor
When I’m not working, I enjoy taking photos of wildlife, trail running in the countryside, and – for a change of scenery – going to music gigs and festivals.
Can you help us reintroduce more dormice to the wild?
Header image credit Wildlife Outdoor | Shutterstock.com