DORMICE, though seldom seen, are held in special regard, an endearing golden image often pictured snuggly asleep with wrapped round furry tail. Big dark eyes, good for low light vision add to their cute appeal.

Recently I joined a monitoring group at Great Holland Pits nature reserve, led by Essex Wildlife Trust’s Darren Tansley. Fifty nest-tubes are regularly checked for signs of summer nesting.

As a legally protected species this, and particularly handling, requires a licence after training. Hazelnuts were considered an important food for them restricting their distribution. Searches for nutshells with tell-tale bevelled holes gave evidence of their presence.

But ubiquitous grey squirrels' partiality for nuts, even before ripe, has affected this source of food for dormice. Fortunately though still a declining animal it has been proved by nest monitoring, as at Great Holland, that they can live where hazel is not frequent. The reserve’s varied bushy habitat has been augmented by the adjoining Woodland Trust’s fast maturing Mill Wood, which is included in the nest-tube scheme.

Indeed it was here where the only animal was found in the penultimate 49th tube. A 19g male with a distinctive stubby black tail, it had been in the same place two months earlier. Half its tail may have been lost in escaping capture by a predator. At full length its furry tail aids balance when climbing – sometimes in the tree canopy.

During the careful checking of tubes it is mainly the presence of nests that are found, though up to four of these largely nocturnal small mammals have been seen.

Very occasionally the young or “pinkies” are found. Reserve warden Bob Seago has had the rare good fortune of spotting three half-grown animals feeding on blackberries. Rose-hips are also important in a quite varied diet.

Raffia-like honeysuckle bark is a favourite material used in nest-building. The neatly woven structures are distinct from the jumble of leaves probably indicating a wood mouse’s bivouac. I mistook fluffy white willow seed-heads in one tube for sheep’s wool, and another was occupied by a crowd of earwigs.

One likely natural nest seen in a tuft of grass raised discussion on the difference between these and the handiwork of harvest mice. Nest tubes or boxes are vacated in winter when the animals go to ground only breaking dormancy for occasional food and drink.

For your diary: November 23 at 7.30pm “Seawalls: An Overlooked Coastal Habitat” – an illustrated talk by Dr Tim Gardiner at Great Bentley village hall, organised by Tendring Essex Wildlife Trust group.