Since the turn of the millennium, the hazel dormouse has declined by more than a third, according to a report published by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species. It states that the number of dormice counted at 400 nest-box sites has fallen by 38% since 2000.
Once widespread throughout Britain, the dormouse has disappeared from 17 English counties since 1885 and is mostly found in the south, being completely absent from Scotland and Ireland. It is now one of Britain’s most threatened mammals due to the loss of their woodland habitat, changes in how woodland is managed, and the effects of climate change.
Climate has been having a major effect on the survival of the dormouse. Dormice hibernate from late autumn to late spring and need reliably cold and dry autumns to enable them to eat as much as possible and store up energy for the long winter. Warmer winters have had a huge impact on the hibernation process, waking dormice early when there is no available food source, meaning they will die. It is thought that up to 70% of dormice die in this way and this number will only rise if the weather becomes even more unpredictable.
Dormice have also been affected by drastic changes in their habitat. As they spend all their life off the ground, they depend on well managed woodland and healthy hedgerows. However, since the second world war, there has been a lack of woodland coppicing and hedgerows have declined by 50% due to human development. This habitat loss has caused remaining dormouse populations to have limited space and some have become isolated.
Since 1993, there have been 26 re-introductions of captive-bred dormice into 12 counties, with the most recent being in June of this year when 20 pairs of breeding pairs were reintroduced into the Yorkshire Dales. Although these re-introductions are ensuring the continuation of the wild population, it is only replacing those that have been lost rather than conserving populations that have already been established.
Unfortunately, the plight of the dormouse is an all too familiar story. The findings of this report only emphasize the results of the recently published State of Nature report, which showed that most of our wildlife remains in decline, with 75% of “priority” species (including the dormouse), decreasing in number. Huge efforts need to be made in order to ensure that the state of Britain’s wildlife doesn’t degrade any further.
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