Renowned for being very cute and very sleepy, the Hazel Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) 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
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, later called Dormouse Conservation Warwickshire, to research the current status of the species in the county. 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 were surveyed between 2009- 2016, sadly with negative results, 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 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.
Dormouse Conservation Warwickshire is now part of the Warwickshire Mammal Group. Its members organise the monitoring of the dormice introduced by the People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) into two woodlands near Leamington Spa in 2017 and 2018. It seems that these populations are thriving as juveniles are being found as well as adults when nest boxes are checked each summer and autumn. In 2020 a programme was begun to investigate how far the dormice are travelling, using footprint tunnels in woodland edges and hedgerows.
Three local conservation groups: Heart of England Forest, the Earlswood Wildlife Partnership and the Stour Valley Wildlife Action Group also carry out survey work to try to find more native populations of this iconic mammal.
Want to help dormice?
The Mammal Group is always pleased to have new members, whether experienced in dormouse conservation or just enthusiastic, to help check nest boxes and footprint tubes several times a year. Please check the Warwickshire Mammal Group website for information about fieldwork, which begins in May each year.