A SILVERSMITH has been recruited by a national charity to cast 21 hazelnuts — in a bid to save the English dormouse.

John Huddlestone, 57, of St James Road, Radley, took up silver work at a night class at Abingdon and Witney College in 1978.

More than 30 years on, he teaches the craft and has been recruited by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) to cast prizes for a new campaign.

Mr Huddlestone has created one gold-plated nut — worth £100 — and 20 silver nuts — worth £75 each — which will be hidden in woodlands around England and Wales as rewards for volunteers who help record the presence of dormice by looking for half-chewed nuts on the forest floor.

The PTES hopes to recruit thousands of volunteers to scour the countryside and the nut hunters will be able to keep any of the prized hazelnuts they find.

Unlike squirrels, which eat hazelnuts haphazardly, dormice nibble a circular hole in the hazelnut’s shell to get to the kernel. The dormice then discard the empty shell, complete with a distinctive tooth mark.

Experts believe that if volunteers can record how many gnawed shells they find, it will give them a better knowledge of how many dormice, pictured below, survive in the wild.

During the last dormouse survey in 2001, one expert examined 50,000 chewed shells to determine which were created by dormice.

Records in Oxfordshire are out of date. Monitoring at the last known habitat in Oxfordshire ended in 2006 because all traces of the dormice, which are just seven centimetres long, disappeared.

Mr Huddlestone, who works as a scientist at AEA Technology at Harwell, cast the precious nuts by pouring silver and gold into a clay mould formed from real hazelnuts.

He said: “The appeal is making something beautiful with my own hallmark. The things that I make will be around for many, many years.

“It was an odd commission, but I had already cast walnuts and nectarine stones.

“I just like doing different things and this style of casting. I do a whole range of things from silver belt buckles to delicate earrings.”

Nut hunters have until March next year to find the nuts, and can register by visiting the website ptes.org