Dozens of hazel dormice released to create a ‘northern stronghold’ for the species

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Conservationists are aiming to create a ‘stronghold of the north’ for endangered nut dormice with the release of 39 of Lancashire’s tiny mammals.

The hazel dormice have been reintroduced into ancient National Trust forests as part of efforts to help endangered species return from the brink of extinction.

It follows a reintroduction of 30 hazel dormice last year to nearby woodland owned by the government agency Natural England, in the Arnside and Silverdale Area of ​​Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The move aims to create a larger and better-connected population of nut dormice in the North West of England.

A native hazel dormouse (Kerstin Hinze)

It is hoped that more releases will take place in the area in the future, and there are plans to erect a dormouse bridge over the West Coast Mainline Railway to link the 2021 and 2022 release sites, have said conservationists.

The native dormouse, immortalized as a sleepy guest at Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland, has suffered a decline of more than half since 2000 and has disappeared from 17 English counties.

Annual dormouse reintroductions began in 1993 and have been managed by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) since 2000, with last year’s project marking a milestone of more than 1,000 animals released across the country.

The Lancashire reintroduction was led by the PTES and the National Trust, and carried out by the University of Cumbria’s Back On Our Map (Boom) project and partners.

The dormice are bred in captivity and undergo a nine-week quarantine with regular health checks before release, to ensure only healthy animals are released into the wild.

They have been released into their woodland habitat, selected to ensure it meets their needs, in large wire mesh cages with food and water, which will be regularly checked before being opened in 10 days for allow them to start exploring their new home.

Ian White, dormouse and training officer for PTES, said: “Wild dormice have declined by 51% since 2000 and are considered extinct in 17 English counties.

“The only way to rebuild their populations is to continue to properly manage known habitats to ensure the survival of all existing populations and to carefully release healthy, captive-bred dormice into well-managed forests.”

A cage in which the dormice are released before being left in the wild (Peter Howarth/PTES/PA)
A cage in which the dormice are released before being left in the wild (Peter Howarth/PTES/PA)

He said it was hoped this year’s dormice would thrive in their new home and in time they would join the neighboring group to form a larger population in Lancashire.

National Trust Ranger Jamie Armstrong said: “Our forests have been carefully managed by National Trust rangers and volunteers for decades to ensure they support a wide range of flora and fauna.

“This work has resulted in a diverse forest structure that makes the chosen area the ideal habitat for dormice.

“This, coupled with its proximity to the 2021 reintroduction site, will hopefully create a thriving population that will spread into nearby forests.”

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