Hungarian Dormice 2002
by Steven Robinson (Wakehurst Place)
I was asked by one of the locals in the pub, “What are you doing in Hungary?” I replied, “I am attending the `International Conference on Dormice’.” His reaction was laughter followed by, “Come on what are you really doing?” This was a common reaction in response to my reason on going to Hungary. If, however, instead of dormice I had said elephant or tiger I know their response would be different. Little do they know that the conservation of the Common Dormice is promoting better management and understanding of our woodlands. The continued conservation of this mammal does not only benefit the dormouse but increases diversity within the woodland environment. However, the ignorance of people is something which they have no blame for. It has taken me many years to understand woodland management and the many benefits to both flora and fauna. As the Common Dormouse is so small and illusive it is hard to gain it high profile attention among the public. Perhaps it is left to people involved in nature conservation to educate people to give the status of our dormouse the same profile of the tiger — if it dropped from trees and attacked humans it may be easier. This can be an excuse to return to the pub and try to convince people of the importance of the conservation of the Common Dormouse.
Mustcardinus avellanarius (common dormouse) is not only found in the U.K. but also throughout Europe. The animal may only differ in colour the more east it is found. In Britain it has disappeared in about half its range in the last 120 years, probably due to loss and fragmentation of its ancient woodland habitat and to the cessation of traditional woodland management. It is now mainly confined to the southern half of Britain. This is why there is a national monitoring programme set up to monitor remaining populations and detect further declines of which Wakehurst Place is part of. Glis glis (edible dormouse) which had an interesting presentation given by a Ph.D. student is our non-native introduction. Released in 1902 this species has only spread 32km from the point of release. This could be due to the strong relationship between breeding and the fruiting of beech.
So the conference, this was the fifth conference to be held dedicated to the many species of dormice found through out the world. Dormice can be found as far East as Japan and as south as South Africa but these are a different species. In the U.K. we have one native species, Mustcardinus avellanarius and an introduced species Glis glis.
The conference was held at the Szent Istvan University in Godollo which is 30km east of Budapest. The university has some 30,000 students studying 40 subjects, ten of which are to Ph.D. level. The campus is spread over 50 miles and makes this the biggest university in Hungary and an important site for education in Eastern Europe. There were 60 delegates from 12 countries as far as Japan with the U.K. being the best represented.
The presentations given were from biologists who have studied certain aspects of dormice ecology of different species and presented their findings. Of interest to me was data on Mustcardinus and Glis. Presentations on species not linked to the U.K. were still of interest, as a lot of the data analysis techniques can be applied to any species. As I am currently studying field biology part time, it was good to see and understand survey results. Speaking at the conference were Paul Bright and Pat Morris, who are two people who have been leading the way in dormouse conservation. A chance to meet and hear their talks was of great value.
As well as presentations at the university there were field excursions to forests occupied by both Mustcardinus and Glis. Here in the Britain we associate dormice with coppiced woodland. It was interesting to see Mustcardinus inhabiting neglected orchards on the edge of coniferous woodland to the dominated forests of oaks in the north east of Hungary.
The post conference excursion was at Aggtelek National Park which is a karst region of eastern Hungary. As part of our entertainment we were taken down 140m into the cave systems of the national park, these caves represent the park as a World Heritage Site and no, there were no dormice down there.
Not only did I gain useful information about dormice which I can apply to my work, but also it was one of those life experiences. I have been fortunate to travel to many places far and near but the `International Conference on Dormouse’ will be remembered as a trip, which could never be repeated.
I look forward to the Kew Guild funding me in 2005 for the next conference?