Glis glis: The Edible Dormouse. By Cath Robinson

In 2017 I had an opportunity to help with a monitoring survey of Glis glis, the Edible
Dormouse, and I thought that members might be interested in this foreign invader.
At the Pompeii exhibition in London in 2013 I remember seeing a little covered terracotta pot
which had survived the eruption. It was a gliraria, a kitchen container used for keeping and
fattening up edible dormice. Little did I know then that a few years later I would have the
opportunity to go on a census visit to monitor them at a location just north of the M 25.

There are two species of dormice in the UK: the sweet Hazel Dormouse and the sweet-
looking Edible Dormouse. Glis glis are endemic in Europe and not in the UK. However, there

is a naturalised population just to the north of London. These dormice are the descendants of
a population owned by the Rothschilds who had a private collection near Tring. In 1902 some
either escaped or were released, and now there is a self-sustaining population within a 30
mile radius. Their natural habitat is deciduous oak and beech forest.
They are about 6 inches long with a 5-inch bushy tail and weigh about 120-150 grams
although they can double this prior to their winter hibernation. They look very sweet with big
dormice eyes and a bushy tail but they have extremely sharp teeth and have been described
as being “sulky and bad-tempered”. They are nocturnal, sleep during the daytime in holes in
trees (the monitoring programme used numbered boxes erected as day roosts) or maybe
local house attics, but tend to hibernate on the ground where they can tunnel deep enough to
be frost free. They can live 3-5 years.
Locally they are considered a pest as they can invade houses and attics, chew through
electrics and cause a nuisance much like squirrels. They are also thought to be a threat to
local wildlife as although they are herbivorous they may eat eggs and fledglings and I’ve even
read they may take bats. Practically, their dispersal will be limited by their habitat
requirements but there are concerns about their impact.
However, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act there are restrictions over how to control
them/destroy them. Well-meaning householders who find them may have contributed to their
dispersal by releasing them away from their homes. (Let’s hope they were wearing thick
gloves.)

During the monitoring visit, volunteers check the boxes, weigh any dormice found, check
them for microchips and chip them if not and then replace them. In this way they begin to get
an idea of their reproductive success and population growth. And to understand their possible
impact on the local ecosystem and the local community.
In Roman times they used to fatten the dormice on walnuts, chestnuts and acorns and eat
them roasted or stuffed with pork or pine nuts. In Slovenia and Croatia they still eat them and
they are considered a delicacy.
I asked one of the guys leading the monitoring if they had ever eaten a dormouse. He denied
it but did say that if you did fancy one then the best time would be pre -hibernation when it
was nicely fattened up and would roast really well.

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