On the 20th of June, in a secluded Warwickshire wood, something special was happening…
If you were to go back to 300 years ago, you probably would have been able to go out into one of our many woodland areas and find the hazel dormouse, sadly though, this is no longer the case. With their soft caramel fur and big black eyes, the hazel dormouse is without question one of Britain’s most endearing mammals, but they are also now one of Britain’s endangered mammals. The latest research indicates that dormouse numbers have plummeted by a staggering 70% over the last 20 years; and this decline is mainly attributed to the loss of woodland and hedgerow habitat, as well as changes to countryside management practices. As a result, hazel dormice have become extinct from 17 counties since the end of the 19th century and populations are declining.
For these reasons, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) are spearheading reintroduction programmes across the country. This dormouse conservation work involves managing a nationwide dormouse monitoring scheme, coordinating annual reintroductions and advising land owners about empathetic land and management practices. The reintroductions are important for the long-term conservation of the species, as they restore dormice to counties where they have been lost so that they can thrive again.
This reintroduction is part of the 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 wouldn’t be possible without you!
19 breeding pairs of dormice were selected as the chosen few to be lucky enough to call Warwickshire their new home. Although the 20th was D-Day, when the dormice were brought to their new location; hours of work had already gone into preparing the site and putting up more than 200 nest boxes.
In order for the dormice to acclimatise to their new environment, they have undergone something called a ‘soft release’. 19 soft release cages were assembled and erected on a grid-based system throughout the wood (mainly so that we could find them with ease!), and these were what the dormouse pairs were placed in. Each cage is equipped with a feeding tube and water tray; as well as the two nest boxes that the dormice were transported in.
For the first 10 days the soft release cages are kept securely closed, and it is the job of the volunteers and staff members at Warwickshire Wildlife Trust to replenish the food and water within them every day, giving us a lucky glimpse every now and then of our furry friends!
Tomorrow, on the 1st of July, the doors to the soft release cages will be opened, and the dormice will be free to exit their temporary homes and explore their new surroundings! Even though the dormice will be free to forage and find their own food within the wood, the replenishment of the food within the soft release cages will be continued for the nest 3 months, lessening in frequency, just to ensure that these special creatures have the best chance at surviving the winter months and their hibernation. And of course careful monitoring will be carried out, as with all PTES reintroductions, which will be used to further inform future reintroductions.
If you would like to make a donation to PTES to provide vital funds to guarantee the continuation of projects such as the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, please click here and don’t forget to follow their journey on twitter using #DormouseDay.
Lucy Walton, Marketing Volunteer