Working in partnership; protecting Devon’s wildlife

In the summer of 2019, Dr Ben Garnett, Senior Ecologist at SLR conducted some bat inspections of an NHS building in Exminster. During his visit he started speaking to one of the staff, Richard Wellington, who works for a not-for-profit NHS initiative called New Leaf.

New Leaf is part of Devon Partnership NHS Trust’s Vocational Rehabilitation Service and supports mental health recovery in adults by teaching them new vocational skills and supporting them back into the world of work.

Their programme provides opportunities in a range of departments, from a commercial plant nursery to catering, and Richard runs Wood Works at New Leaf. During his discussion with Richard, Ben noticed a few bird, bat and hedgehog boxes in the workshop, being constructed for local gardeners. Ben was really impressed at the quality of the boxes and wondered whether there was an opportunity for the Wood Works team to build dormouse boxes. The SLR team needed a lot of these in in 2019, to provide mitigation and enhancement for many of their major infrastructure and residential projects.

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Standard dormouse boxes are available from various online suppliers, but previously Ben and the team had been frustrated at the poor quality of some, and lack of new improved designs following recent research. Ben suggested that New Leaf have a go at producing a new dormouse box model for SLR. Following further discussions and refinements to a prototype, New Leaf were able to construct the newly designed dormouse boxes in bulk. Over the course of the last few months of 2019, the SLR Exeter office ordered over 70 boxes from New Leaf, plus a few bird boxes too. Many of these boxes were used to support dormice relocated by a local road widening project near Newton Abbot.

SLR was delighted to provide their infrastructure client with locally made, high quality boxes for dormouse, whilst also supporting good mental health through this local community programme. Following the success of this partnership SLR has also introduced these boxes to a residential client for use in their housing developments. As a next stage, Ben is now looking to work with other SLR ecologists around the UK and Ireland and hopes many more orders for dormouse and bird boxes will follow.

Speaking about the initiative Ben said: “So far, this partnership has been a great success for dormice, local wildlife and local people in our community. We look forward to working further with New Leaf. They have great woodworking skills and are willing to work with us and produce any kind of box we want. There is scope for further innovation with other box types, although their bird, bat and hedgehog models are already great wooden options for these boxes. We hope this will prove to be a long and fruitful partnership.”

Richard Wellington, a Technical Instructor at New Leaf, said: “We provide a wide range of activities and skills to help people with mental health needs move back towards the workplace. It has been particularly rewarding for us all to work on this project as the people involved can see that it is having a direct impact on Devon’s ecology and wildlife.”

Dr Ben Garnett is a Senior Ecologist with SLR with over 14 years of consultancy experience. Ben has extensive experience conducting and supervising a wide range of habitat and protected species surveys including badger, dormice, birds, bats, great crested newts, reptiles and otters.

Key Contacts:

Dr Ben Garnett