Wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and partners, on Tuesday 20 June, released 19 breeding pairs of rare hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) into an undisclosed woodland location in Warwickshire, near Royal Leamington Spa, in an attempt to stem the decline of this endangered species.
With their soft caramel fur, furry tail and big black eyes, hazel dormice are without question one of Britain’s most endearing mammals, but sadly these charismatic creatures are also endangered. The decline can be attributed to the loss of woodland and hedgerow habitat, as well as changes to traditional countryside management practices. As a result, hazel dormice have become extinct from 17 English counties since the end of the 19th century and populations are declining. This is an animal in critical need of help.
Ian White, PTES’ dormouse officer explained: “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.”
Chris Redstall, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s living landscape scheme manager continues: “This year’s reintroduction is part of our Princethorpe Woodlands Living Landscape Scheme, which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and aims to restore ancient wooded landscapes connected by hedgerows and trees – two ideal habitats for growing hazel dormice populations. We would like to thank National Lottery players for their support.”
This reintroduction marks the culmination of weeks of work by partners PTES, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, Natural England, Zoological Society of London, Paignton Zoo and the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group, who are all involved in different stages building up to dormouse day:
- The dormice being released are captive bred by members of the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group
- Prior to release, the dormice undergo a six-week quarantine at ZSL (Zoological Society of London), and Paignton Zoo in Devon, during which vets conduct a full health examination to check they are in top condition and reduce the risk of them passing non-native disease, so that they have the best chance of forming a healthy population in the wild.
Following the health checks, the dormice are then released on-site in breeding pairs or trios 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. The cages are opened after about 10 days to allow the dormice out into their new woodland home and are eventually removed once the animals have settled into the wood.
Dormouse reintroductions are part of Natural England’s Species Recovery Programme, with this reintroduction following an earlier successful release at Windmill Naps in Warwickshire in 2009, where 46 hazel dormice were returned to the wood. A future reintroduction is also planned at a woodland near the 2017 release site, aiming to link the hedgerows between the two hazel dormouse hotspots, allowing the two separate groups to interbreed, creating a larger self-sustaining population.
The Heritage Lottery Funding is a tremendous boost for wildlife and people in this special area of ancient Warwickshire woodlands. Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is working on a landscape-scale level of action for wildlife in the area, allowing the Trust to restore 300 hectares of ancient woodland, 20km of historic hedgerows, which includes old parish boundaries, 15 ponds and 20 hectares of flower-rich grassland over the next four years.
This Warwickshire reintroduction marks the 27th dormouse reintroduction led by PTES. Over the last 24 years, more than 864 dormice have been released at 22 different sites across 12 English counties.
Photo credit: Steven Cheshire (Warwickshire Wildlife Trust) 2017