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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 October 2007, 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK
Counting shells to track dormice
Dormouse eating a nut
Dormice leave marks on the hazelnut shell
Volunteers are being asked to help track signs of one of the UK's rare and elusive animals, the dormouse.

The South Wales Dormouse Survey is a joint project between 14 local councils and conservation bodies.

It includes looking for hazelnut shells left behind in woods and hedgerows.

Sarah Mellor, biodiversity officer with Bridgend Council said: "With a little bit of practice volunteers can learn to identify which nuts have been opened by dormice."

Ms Mellor added: "Like many other small mammals, dormice eat hazelnuts, which they open in their own particular way leaving the shell with very distinctive marks."

Dormice are nocturnal creatures which weigh about the same as two 1 coins.

They are golden in colour with a thick, furry tail and large black eyes and are easily distinguished from other mammals.

"Our knowledge of dormouse distribution at a local level in south Wales is still quite poor and we need volunteers and community groups to help out with a bit of detective work," added Ms Mellor.

Gwent Wildlife Trust, the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales and the Countryside Council for Wales are among organisations involved in the project.

A survey information pack is available as well as training events to help identify the signs.

It is thought the common dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) was once widespread but numbers have declined.

The creature is relatively rare in north Wales but is thought to be more common in south and west Wales.

Changes in woodland habitats are thought to have been one of the reasons for a drop in their numbers.

Dormice and their habitat are strictly protected by law.

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