Hazel dormice are one of Britain’s most endearing mammals but their numbers are in steep decline. Last week the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and Warwickshire Wildlife Trust released 19 breeding pairs of hazel dormice into a secret woodland location in an attempt to reintroduce them to our countryside.
Loss of woodland and hedgerow habitat, as well as changes to the way traditional countryside is managed, all contribute to the plight of the hazel dormouse. Sadly these tiny mammals have been extinct in 17 English counties since the end of the 19th century.
Ian White, PTES’ Dormouse Officer explains: “Our dormouse conservation work involves managing a nationwide dormouse monitoring scheme, coordinating annual reintroductions and advising land owners about empathetic land management practices. The reintroductions are important for the long-term conservation of this species, as we’re restoring dormice to counties where they’ve been lost so that they can thrive again. This is a great start in beginning to combat their decline. Our approach also benefits a whole raft of other species including birds, bats and butterflies.”
PTES and Warwickshire Wildlife Trust have been working closely with Natural England, Zoological Society of London, Paignton Zoo and the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group prior to release. The dormice had to undergo a six-week quarantine with full health checks to ensure they were in top condition and to reduce the risk of passing on non-native diseases.
The dormice were then released in breeding pairs in their own wooden nest box, fitted inside a mesh cage secured to trees. The mesh cages, filled with food and water, help the dormice acclimatise to their new home in the wild before being opened after about 10 days to allow them out into their new woodland home.
An earlier successful release in Warwickshire in 2009 saw 46 hazel dormice returned to the countryside. It is hoped a future reintroduction planned at a woodland near the 2017 release site will link the hedgerows between the two hazel dormouse hotspots and allow the separate groups to interbreed, creating a larger self-sustaining population.
To follow news on the latest hazel dormouse reintroduction go to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species website.