Hazel Dormouse conservation
Renowned for being very cute and very sleepy, the Hazel Dormouse is the only species of dormouse that is native to Britain.
Tragically, dormice have suffered a serious decline over the last century. This has largely been due to inadequate land management and farming, which has meant that the number of woodlands and hedgerows, where dormice live, has been dramatically reduced. The Hazel Dormouse is a European protected species and is listed on schedule 5 of the 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act; it is therefore protected against any deliberate killing, injuring or habitat destruction.
Dormouse Conservation Warwickshire (DCW)
Although dormice used to be widespread throughout England and Wales, their populations have decreased substantially and there are only a few scattered populations remaining in the Midlands. In 1999 Warwickshire had only six known populations of dormice, according to a county-wide survey for Natural England. Only one of these appears to remain today and the species is the subject of Local Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP). In 2009 Ruth Moffatt, former LBAP Co-ordinator, took on the plight of the dormouse by forming the Warwickshire Dormouse Conservation Group (WDCG) to research the current status of the species in the county. Since 2009 there have been four introductions of dormice to three woodlands; it seems that at two of these sites this has been a success as juveniles have been found during box checks since the release.
A 45-page report 'The Status of the Hazel Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) in Warwickshire, Coventry & Solihull in 2016' includes an account of this search for Warwickshire's missing dormice.
The early work of the Warwickshire Dormouse Conservation Group
All the woodlands with reported dormouse populations in 1999 have now been surveyed, sadly with negative results, and also several other woodlands with anecdotal records of dormice since 2000. Surveys involved searching for nibbled hazelnuts and the installation of nest tubes in hedgerows and shrubs; it is believed that the best location for tubes is on the edge of woodlands where the light produces more flowers, fruits and insects than inside a wood. However, all too often the tubes have provided homes for birds and wood mice! Members carry out the maintenance and checking of nest tubes between February and November and also survey new woodlands to assess their potential suitability for dormice. In addition members have helped to monitor the one remaining native dormouse population and the two introduced populations.
In 2012 PTES awarded funding to the WDCG for survey work and equipment for use within Warwickshire Wildlife Trust's Dunsmore Living Landscapes Scheme. This part of the landscape scale project is called 'Action for Dormice' involved mapping of the area to identify good fruiting hazel and the installation of nest tubes and boxes in Ryton and Wappenbury Woods.
Surveying for dormice in 9 woodlands is now organised by the Warwickshire Mammal Group with the assistance of members of the WDCG, now renamed Dormouse Conservation Warwickshire (DCW) , and two local conservation groups, the Earlswood Wildlife Partnership and the Stour Valley Wildlife Action Group. At two of the woods the recent discovery of possible dormouse nests in the tubes has led to the additional installation of nest boxes. One of these sites, Bubbenhall Wood, is perhaps the most likely place to find more dormice; there was a release here in 1998 of animals from the Channel Tunnel works but so far they remain elusive.
Warwickshire's 4th introduction
In June 2017 members of the Warwickshire Mammal Group assisted with the release, by the People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), of 38 captive-bred dormice into a woodland near Leamington Spa. When the 300 nest boxes were first checked in September, 16 nests were found, with 11 adult animals and 38 live young. In October 33 juveniles and two of the original adults were found, with some nests built outside the box area showing that the dormice are dispersing. Hopefully these animals will survive hibernation and appear in the boxes when checks resume in May 2018.
Want to become a member?
The DCW is always pleased to have new members, whether experienced in dormouse conservation or just enthusiastic, to help check the nest tubes and boxes several times a year. Please ask Ruth Moffatt to put you in touch with members of the Warwickshire Mammal Group who organise the fieldwork.