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Fat dormice 2006

We have had our house in Vienne for over 20 years now and during that time it has provided shelter not only for ourselves but for quite a range of other creatures. Originally it was more creature user-friendly, in that It had a proper old barn door on the barn part at the back and this was less than tight-fitting so that a Barn Owl could actually enter and roost on one of the beams. The walls are made of clay and flints, There are lots of holes in the clay, these are initially started by solitary wasps, but then they become homes for spiders some of which are quite chunky.

These small holes then get enlarged by mice which actually tunnel through to the inside, despite the walls being incredibly thick. I think there must be quite a network of tunnels through our walls.

Many of the entrances and exits are now plugged with plaster of concrete. In the early days it was not uncommon for a snake to pop its head into the barn area from one of these holes and we often found their shed skins on the floor, some were quite large. I think the type of snake was a smooth snake. We still get western whip snakes and I photographed quite a large one on the roof last summer. Lots of Wall lizards are about and they sometimes come inside the house.

We do still get large House Centipedes, these are quite fearsome brutes and I believe they can give you quite a nasty poisonous bite. Other insects are hibernating butterflies, especially Peacock and Red Admirals.

In the roof we have had Hornets and we did for a couple of years have Honey Bees living in a bit of cavity wall.

In terms of mammals, we get mice, but not often now. We still get Fat Dormice, I have read lots of reports about how problematical they can be, but so far they have not caused us too much damage. One French carpenter we had doing some work for us said they were good for the house because they eat the wood worm beetles. How true this is I don’t know, I think they are largely vegetarians living on acorns and nuts.

In the early days we used to get Beech Martens and I once saw pair of Garden Dormice run from under the roof and along a wall. Red squirrels are always around and I see them go into my neighbours roof so I expect they get into ours sometimes.

It is my intention to construct an owl box and put it up in a tree at the bottom of the garden as I do feel slightly guilty at having reduced the warm welcome our house used to provide for the local wild life.