The Heart of England Forest (HOEF) is providing a location for the reintroduction of the endearing but endangered hazel dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius into the Warwickshire countryside.
Dormice are being reintroduced in Warwickshire in a bid to boost numbers of the endangered species. The mammals, once widespread across Britain, have seen a 40% decline in the last 20 years, as reported by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES). Nida Al-Fulaij from the conservation charity said the animals were now
rare and vulnerable to extinction.”
Some 34 captive-bred dormice are released into Heart of England Forest woodland. The location has been chosen because of limited human access to the site and the mix of tree species and other habitats.
Stephen Coffey, head forester at The Heart of England Forest, is enthusiastic about the programme,
We are keen to support this important project and wish it every success.”
The woodland is also in an area historically populated by dormice, but which have since died out. The dormice will be introduced in pairs to encourage them to establish colonies. The dormice were captive-bred through the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group
and have been checked with vets at the Zoological Society of London and Paignton Zoo in Devon to make sure they were healthy and have the best chance of survival.
The dormice will be released in pairs in their own secure wooden nest box fitted inside a mesh cage secured to woodland trees. This helps them adjust to their new home in the wild. Once the initial relocation has taken place, the dormice will be checked and fed daily in these cages over a two week period to help acclimatise them to their new environment. A small door in each cage is then opened so that the dormice are free to explore their new home whilst having the security of the mesh cage and food if needed. These are eventually removed once the animals have settled into the wood.
More than 635 dormice have been released across 12 English counties over the last 19 years as part of the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme. Survival rates of dormice reintroduced into the wild are extremely high, with dormice from several sites known to have dispersed beyond the woodland in which they were released. Reintroductions are only attempted in areas where historical populations of dormice have gone extinct and are followed by ongoing sympathetic management of the woodland and hedgerows.
The Heart of England Forest is working with a number of conservation groups on the programme including Natural England. Katherine Walsh, Mammal Specialist at Natural England, added,
Dormice are a charismatic, iconic creature of our countryside but their numbers have fallen significantly since the late 19th century. We set up the dormouse recovery project nearly twenty years ago, which has seen dormice return and thrive in many areas of the country where they had become extinct.”
A team of volunteers led by Lisa Kerslake from Swift Ecology put up nesting boxes in the trees for the Dormice. Carole Longden, Business Development Manager for The Heart of England Forest comments,
This is a wonderful project for The Heart of England Forest to support and provides a great opportunity for employee volunteering on a useful and memorable local environmental project.”