Britain’s Hazel dormouse is in ‘catastrophic decline’ as numbers fall by 70%
- Dormice have vanished from Staffordshire, Northumberland and Hertfordshire
The beloved hazel dormouse is in ‘catastrophic decline’ – as its numbers have fallen 70 per cent since 2000.
A major report on the sleepy rodent has revealed that it has become extinct in 20 English counties since Victorian times.
Since 2019 alone, dormice have vanished from Staffordshire, Northumberland and Hertfordshire.
The State of Britain’s Dormice 2023 report by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species said hazel dormice are suffering from destruction of their habitats and ‘poor management’ of Britain’s woodland and hedgerows, as well as a changing climate.
Rising deer numbers are also causing problems for dormice as they eat the shrubby plants that give dormice cover.
A major report on the sleepy rodent has revealed that it has become extinct in 20 English counties since Victorian times
With their soft caramel fur, furry tail and big black eyes, dormice are attractive creatures.
But putting their looks aside, the rodents are considered a ‘flagship’ species. If dormice are thriving in a woodland, it means other species – such as many butterflies and birds such as nightingales and chiffchaffs, are doing well too.
The PTES said dormice may also be at greater risk of extinction than recognised by their current classification of ‘Vulnerable’.
The new report, and other recent research, suggests that dormice should be classified as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List.
A revised classification would make them a higher priority species and could result in increased targeted conservation efforts, which would help in reversing their chronic decline.
Volunteers check hundreds of dormouse nest boxes at woodland sites across the country to carry out the survey.
Ian White, Dormouse and Training Officer at People’s Trust for Endangered Species explains: ‘The wealth of data from our monitoring programme gives a unique insight into how dormice are faring and contributes to major reports such as the recent State of Nature, which drives wider conservation efforts.
‘If the decline continues at the same rate, in another 30 years dormouse populations will have fallen by 94 per cent since 2000, which we simply cannot let happen.’
With their soft caramel fur, furry tail and big black eyes, dormice are attractive creatures
The PTES said there was a ‘glimmer of hope’, however, as its dormouse reintroduction programme has released 1,112 dormice in 25 different woodlands in 13 counties.
Overall dormice are locally extinct in 14 English counties within their historical range while in a further six they are known only from reintroduced populations.
Ian White added: ‘Dormice continue to face an uncertain future as our climate and countryside change.
‘Declines on this scale cannot be fixed overnight, so it will take time before we see if our conservation work is effective.
‘We know what works for dormice, but we urgently need increased funding to implement this nationally.
‘Hope is not lost as reintroductions, monitoring, research and landscape projects offer a lifeline – and some populations appear to be thriving – but we need to do everything we can on a much bigger scale to prevent the worst case from happening.’
Four ‘dormouse bridges’ have been installed across major highways including two across the M1 motorway and two in South Wales. Seven more dormouse bridges are awaiting planning approval.
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