The Wildwood team is celebrating after successfully introducing captive-bred hazel dormice to an area of Nottinghamshire woodland as part of a continuing project to help protect the species from extinction.

Working alongside other conservation organisations including the People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Paignton Zoo, Natural England and Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust; Wildwood was on hand to assist in the release of 40 animals to a secret location.
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 100years. Thanks to the continued threats of habitat loss and unsympathetic woodland management the species has become extinct across half of its former range.
Each year Wildwood supplies captive-bred dormice for the release programme and as studbook holder for the species selects and pairs up the animals for release, thus ensuring the strongest genetic mix for future generations.
To ensure the dormice are successful, the woodland is carefully managed by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust to ensure can provide suitable food and shelter, whilst the animals are introduced via a "soft-release" system. Initially they are housed in cages with adequate food and water before the cage door is opened after a few days. The cage is topped up with supplies allowing the dormice to come and go at will without having to fend for themselves immediately after release. This supports the dormice as they become integrated into the area and gives them the best possible start in their new woodland home.
Hazel Ryan, Wildwood's Head of Conservation said "It's wonderful to be involved once again in this amazing project. We hope that with continued releases and careful habitat management we can help to expand their range and bring hazel dormice back to areas where they once thrived."
 
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.
  • Grey squirrels, an introduced species, consume autumn nuts at an earlier stage, leaving none for the dormice.