Rare dormice reintroduced to English woodland

Image: A rare hazel dormouse climbing through hazel branches © Pat Morris

June 18. Twenty breeding pairs of rare hazel dormice were released today into an undisclosed woodland location in Nottinghamshire in an attempt to the stem the decline of the species. Dormice were once widespread throughout much of England and Wales, but their range and population has diminished significantly over the past 100 years due to loss of woodland habitat and hedgerows, as well as traditional habitat management practices. The species is now rare and vulnerable to extinction.

Habitat improvements
The wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), which conducted today’s release, worked closely with the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust to select the location for this year’s reintroduction, clustering the 20 breeding pairs close to the sites of two previously successful releases in 2013 and 2014.

Ian White, PTES dormouse officer says: “Woodland and hedgerows will be improved between the three reintroduction sites, so that as the separate dormouse populations establish themselves in their respective woodlands, they will later have the opportunity to disperse and eventually join up. This will improve chances for the long-term survival of the species.”

Image: When hibernating dormice curl tightly in their nest © Hattie Spray

Captive breeding
The dormice released today have been captive bred through the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group. Prior to release, they underwent thorough checks with vets at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Paignton Zoo in Devon. Gabriela Peniche, ZSL conservation biologist explains:
“By carefully monitoring the dormice prior to the release, we are ensuring that individuals of this vulnerable native species have the best chance of forming a healthy population in the wild. The dormice undergo a six week quarantine at ZSL Institute of Zoology and Paignton Zoo, during which they receive a full health examination to not only ensure that they are in tip-top condition, but to reduce the risk of them passing non-native disease to wild populations.”

Nest boxes
Following the health checks, the dormice were released on-site 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 adjust to their new home in the wild. The cages will be eventually removed once the animals have settled into the wood. The reintroductions play an important role in the long-term conservation of this endangered species and are part of the Species Recovery Programme supported by Natural England.

This year marks the 25th dormouse reintroduction by PTES; over the last 22 years, more than 750 dormice have been released at 19 different sites across 12 English counties.
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Image: A dormouse ready for release into the wild as part of the PTES reintroduction programme © Susannah Penn

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