The Wildwood Trust team are celebrating after another record breaking year, this time providing 29 of the 39 dormice that are to be released today in a bid to halt the extinction of one of Britain’s most treasured wild animals.

Hazel Ryan, Wildwood's Head of Conservation said,

"It's wonderful to make a difference and prevent these wonderful creatures going extinct. We hope that with continued effort we can help to expand their range and bring hazel dormice back to areas where they once thrived."

“It is a huge privilege to help lead the fight to breed these amazing animals and my thanks goes to all the many volunteers and other organisations that make this vital work possible, especially the many volunteers who monitor dormice and rescue them when in trouble which forms the basis of our breeding centre”

This 2018 reintroduction will take place near Coventry and follows two previous dormice reintroductions in the area which have been a success.

Not only is Wildwood the UK’s leading captive breeding centre for dormice but also manages the national dormouse studbook, making the vital choices of which individuals will be released and who breeds with who to avoid inbreeding.

The dormice will be put into soft release cages and looked after by local volunteers for a week to 10 days, then a small opening will be made in the cage to allow them to explore the woodland and learn where to find food and where there are safe places to nest. Local trained and licensed volunteers will monitor them in future. They are all micro-chipped so that individuals can be monitored; their weight, breeding success etc. The woodland is managed by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust. This is the 28th national reintroduction and the 2018 release site is just a few miles from last year’s release site; the two populations should spread and eventually meet up.

It takes a big effort to make this project a success and Wildwood have been working with other members of the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group alongside other conservation organisations including the People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Paignton Zoo, Natural England, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and National Dormouse Monitoring Programme (NDMP).

This recent release is the latest in the scheme which was established in 1992 and aims to increase dormice numbers in areas of the UK where the species is in decline. It is hoped that this latest release group will eventually link up with another population released last year in a nearby area.

Once widespread throughout much of England, hazel dormouse numbers have steadily declined over the past 100 years. Thanks to the continued threats of habitat loss through intensive farming and unsympathetic woodland management the species has become extinct across half of its former range.

 

The dormice in this video were rescued last year by Wildwood and now are being released as part of this reintroduction project

Information on the Hazel Dormouse

The hazel or common dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) is the only native species of dormouse found in Britain. Dormice are a predominantly woodland species, particularly associated with broad-leaved coppice. Dormice are a 'flagship species'; by managing habitat for dormice, a range of other species will benefit. They are also important as 'bio-indicators' as they are particularly sensitive to habitat and population fragmentation. Their presence should indicate that the area can sustain populations of other sensitive species.

Over the last 100 years the hazel dormouse has declined in both numbers and distribution and is thought to have become extinct in about half its former distributional range. Once widespread over most of England and Wales, dormice have disappeared from many northern areas and are now mainly found in the southern counties, especially Kent, Sussex, Devon and Somerset. The total adult population is now thought to number about 45,000, distributed among a variety of widely fragmented sites. Even in optimal habitats, population densities are less than 10 adults per hectare. Although dormice are widely distributed in Wales, individual populations are small, scattered and isolated from each other.

Hazel dormice have often been lost in the past as a result of inappropriate woodland management. They are an arboreal species and rarely descend to ground level apart from during hibernation. Factors associated with their decline include:

Loss and fragmentation of ancient woodland, leaving isolated, non-viable populations, where even short distances form barriers to dispersal.

Clearance of hedgerows, especially after the Second World War, dramatically reduced the number of habitat corridors that were used by dormice to travel between adjacent areas.

A decline in traditional woodland management has led to a lack of coppicing areas or inappropriate coppice which can greatly reduce species numbers. Coppiced areas should create a patchwork mosaic of different ages throughout the wood, with an adequate diversity of woody plant species, predominantly hazel coppice. Coppice in irregular patches is essential, to allow some shrubs to be flowering or fruiting whilst others are maturing. This is essential between April and November, when dormice are awake after hibernation.

Damage to the scrub layer and coppice re-growth by large mammals such as deer and livestock, reduces the supply of particular foods necessary to dormice, as well suppressing natural regeneration.

Climate change has had numerous effects on dormice, due to their specialised feeding requirements. During warm winters dormice awake from hibernation more often, wasting energy as their body temperature warms, causing an increase in metabolic rate. It is also thought that warmer autumns lead to fruit ripening at an earlier stage, sending dormice into hibernation earlier as their food reserves dwindle. Wetter summers prevent dormice from foraging.