Meet Tony Hulatt: 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 Devon
Tell us about yourself and the site you monitor
I’ve had a lifelong passion for natural history and studied zoology at Royal Holloway College, University of London, where I was lucky to have Dr Pat Morris as one of my lecturers.
However, I spent my working life in vehicle fleet management and, having owned my own business, was able to retire early in 2014. My dream was always to rekindle my love for natural history.
So I joined the volunteer team at Slapton shortly after retiring – a place I knew and loved well having spent years bird-watching at Slapton Ley. Slapton is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and National Nature Reserve covering 500 acres of varied habitat. This includes the largest freshwater lake in the south-west, and is home to a wealth of fauna and flora, many of which are rare and nationally important indicator species.
How long have you been monitoring for?
A vacancy arose in the monitoring team, and I was given the chance to train for my dormouse handling licence which I received in 2016. We currently have 45 boxes across the reserve, but we are always looking for other parts of the site to put boxes up in.
What’s the most memorable day you’ve had looking for dormice?
Finding my first breeding nest – and the first found at Slapton for many years. I’d recently put some boxes up in a new area of the reserve and I’ll never forget removing the lid and the excitement of finding a female and my first litter of five ‘eyes open’ young.
Describe your woodland and why it’s special to you
Slapton’s a mosaic of different habitats, with traditional hazel coppice, mixed broad-leafed woodland, and blackthorn and gorse scrub on the coastal path, all of which have resident dormice. Our monthly box checks take a full morning to complete and involve travelling to all parts of the reserve but, on the plus side, there are a few areas which aren’t open to the public and on some visits it feels like I’m the only person in the reserve.
What are the challenges at the site?
Most of the reserve is open to the public throughout the year and some of the best dormouse habitat is close to public footpaths. Sadly, interference by visitors and their canine companions is a constant challenge and there’s no doubt that in some areas of the reserve, the dormouse population has suffered from disturbance which has impacted their breeding success. In recent years, we’ve tried to minimise disturbance, especially from dogs, by putting dead-hedging along some of the public footpaths, which has been effective but is not always practical.
Tell us something about you we wouldn’t expect from a dormouse monitor
I’ve been a gigging musician since my early teens and I currently sing and play lead guitar in a local rock band, as well as performing solo. For the last two years I’ve played at the Salcombe Music Festival and my last gig with the rock band was at the Dartmouth Music Festival in May. I also perform at the annual ‘Celebrate Start Bay’ event at Slapton, and now compere the event too – I just can’t keep away!
Can you help us reintroduce more dormice to the wild?