The 1,000th hazel dormouse has been released into the wild as part of a reintroduction programme to help boost numbers of the native mammal within the UK.
Wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Natural England and the University of Cumbria have been working together to help save the endangered species from extinction. They reached a conservation milestone this week when 30 hazel dormice were released into a Lancashire woodland.
The population of hazel dormice in Britain has halved since 2000, with the dormouse disappearing altogether in 17 English counties. It is hoped that the careful release of healthy, captive-bred dormice into well-managed habitats will bring these charismatic creatures back from the brink.
Before being released into their new home in Lancashire, the captive-bred dormice underwent a nine-week quarantine period at ZSL (Zoological Society of London), where they were given regular health checks to ensure the best chance of forming a healthy population in the wild.
The dormice were then carefully transported to the reintroduction location, where staff from PTES, Natural England and the University of Cumbria were on hand to ensure the smooth transition from travel nest-boxes into mesh cages within the woodland.
The cages are filled with a mix of foliage, buds, berries, nuts, insects and water, and this is where the dormice will live for the first 10 days. Each cage is connected to a tree, so the dormice become acclimatised to their new surroundings, with volunteers checking each cage daily. After 10 days, the cage doors are opened to allow the dormice to explore their new home.
Ian White, Dormouse & Training Officer at PTES, explains: “Reintroductions are crucial to the long-term recovery of many species, but particularly hazel dormice as their decline has been so dramatic. Our first reintroduction took place in 1993, so we are thrilled that this year we’re releasing our 1,000th dormouse. This is a great milestone for conservation and a huge moment for hazel dormice in Lancashire too, as there are no known populations currently living there.”