VOLUNTEERS are needed to help hunt for the elusive dormouse across the county this summer.

The Oxfordshire Dormouse Project has said it needs up to 60 people to help carry out what it says is “vital” monitoring and recording work over the summer months.

One thousand nesting tubes have been installed in 14 woodland areas including Charlbury, and Fulbrook in the west of the county and Piddington in the east of the county, Researchers are hoping they will provide evidence of dormice activity and show whether the species is in decline in the area.

Pete Newbold, survey officer for the project run by Oxfordshire Mammal Group, said: “Dormice are quite rare.They’re a protected species and there are very few records of them in Oxfordshire. We need around five volunteers per survey site and this is a unique opportunity to join a licensed group of experts and take part in important field work in areas that wouldn’t normally be open to the public.

“If we do find dormice then some of our volunteers may be fortunate enough to be able to handle them under the close supervision of our licensed handlers as we record statistics such as weight and measurements.”

The Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment has provided £4,000 for the work, money which came from Grundon Waste Management through the Landfill Communities Fund.

As well as supporting the project, some of the funding is being used to buy further nesting boxes. One clue to the presence of dormice is discarded nuts, with hazelnuts a favourite.

Because of the distinctive way a dormouse chews the nut, researchers can tell if they are in an area just by examining the opened shells.

Mr Newbold added: “Even if people are unable to volunteer, we’d still like them to conduct nut hunts of their own and submit their findings to us so we can check for evidence of dormice activity.

“It’s something that we’re very keen to promote as it’s great fun for both children and adults and encourages them to get out and explore the countryside, while potentially helping conservation at the same time.

“As a relatively small charity, we’ve been extremely grateful for the funding. Without it we wouldn’t have been able to launch the survey.”

The group is also encouraging land owners to do more to improve woodland areas such as linking up patches of suitable habitat.

To join one of the volunteer groups, people must to become a member of Oxfordshire Mammal Group at a cost of £5.

* Find out more at oxonmammals.org