This week, the 1,000th hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) will be reintroduced to the UK by wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Natural England and the University of Cumbria.
PTES and partners will release 15 breeding pairs or trios of rare hazel dormice into an undisclosed woodland location in the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (a nationally protected landscape covering parts of north Lancashire and south Cumbria), in an attempt to save this endangered species from extinction in the UK.
Dormouse reintroductions have taken place annually since 1993, but excitingly the dormice reintroduced this June are part of a wider species recovery programme, ‘Back On Our Map’ (BOOM). Led by the University of Cumbria and Morecambe Bay Partnership and supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, BOOM is a multispecies, landscape scale project which aims to reinstate 10 locally threatened or extinct native species back into the area, including hazel dormice.
With their soft caramel fur, furry tail and big black eyes, hazel dormice are undoubtably endearing, but sadly their numbers have declined by a staggering 51% since 2000, according to PTES’ State of Britain’s Dormice 2019. They are also considered extinct in 17 English counties. Carefully releasing healthy, captive bred dormice into the right habitat (that is maintained via correct woodland management practices) is the key to bringing these charismatic creatures back from the brink.
Ian White, Dormouse & Training Officer at PTES, explains:
Jo Sayers, BOOM Project Manager, University of Cumbria, says:
Jim Turner, Reserve Manager, Natural England, says:
This year’s reintroduction would not be possible without months of dedication from all organisations involved, including the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group (CDCBG), Wildwood Trust (a key member of the CDCBG) and ZSL (Zoological Society of London). Each partner plays a key role in the reintroduction programme:
- This year’s woodland site has been carefully chosen by the BOOM team, Natural England and PTES, ensuring that the right habitat is in place and that it’ll be maintained correctly to secure the long-term survival of the reintroduced dormice.
- All dormice being released have been captive bred by members of the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group, including Wildwood Trust.
- Before being released into their new home, every dormouse undergoes a nine-week quarantine period at ZSL (Zoological Society of London), where vets conduct regular and thorough health checks. This ensures that each animal is fit and healthy prior to release, giving them the best chance of forming a healthy population in the wild.
- Once all dormice have been given the green light, they are carefully transported to the reintroduction location, where staff from PTES, Natural England and the University of Cumbria, along with several volunteers, will be on hand to ensure the smooth transition from travel nest-boxes to their new woodland home.
Dr Deborah Brady, Research Fellow at the University of Cumbria, who is managing the reintroduction for BOOM, adds:
After 10 days, the cage doors are opened to allow the dormice to explore their new home. In due course, when the dormice no longer need them, the mesh cages will eventually be removed.
PTES, Natural England and the University of Cumbria are aiming to coordinate a further two dormouse reintroductions in the area in June 2022, in partnership with the National Trust, the RSPB and the Arnside and Silverdale AONB.
Ian White concludes: