A study has revealed that the population of hazel dormice in the UK has decreased by 70%, leading to their status as an endangered species.
The population of the hazel dormouse, which is known as the most difficult to find mammal native to Britain, has decreased by 70% in the current century.
The study conducted by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) has revealed that the tree-dwelling animals, which were once active during the night, are no longer found in 20 counties in England. As a result, they must now be considered “endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list.
Since the last report on the status of Britain’s dormice was released in 2019, they have disappeared from Hertfordshire, Staffordshire, and Northumberland.
Conservation scientists have attributed the decline in arboreal dormice populations to a loss of under-storey vegetation in their woodland habitats during the spring and summer months. Additionally, climate change has further exacerbated this issue.
During the colder months, dormice go into a state of hibernation for around six months in underground nests. However, with less severe winters, they are now more likely to wake up from hibernation when there is no food to sustain them. This results in a mortality rate of 40% to 70% among dormice during hibernation.
Ian White, an employee of PTES who specializes in dormice, stated: “There is a traditional saying in Worcestershire that says ‘Woods don’t grow beneath trees’. Sadly, due to deer browsing and lack of woodland management, we have lost the diversity and undergrowth in our woods.”
This situation presents a double problem. With winters becoming less severe and unpredictable, there is a risk that dormice will awaken from hibernation multiple times, depleting their energy supply. Additionally, damp springs and summers hinder dormice from foraging due to their non-waterproof fur, and they are only able to produce an average of four offspring per year, unlike mice and rats with higher breeding capabilities.
If the current decrease persists, the population of dormice will have decreased by 94% since 2000 in the next 30 years, and this is something we cannot allow to occur.
The hazel dormouse, scientifically known as Muscardinus avellanarius, is a significant species for preserving woodlands due to its caramel-colored fur, large black eyes, and fluffy tail. Its existence serves as a sign of the overall diversity of animals and plants, as well as the well-being of the woodland environment.
A group of dedicated volunteers are aiding the PTES and other charitable organizations in their efforts to combat the decline. Since 1990, they have diligently monitored hundreds of dormouse nest boxes in woodlands throughout the country, making it the most extensive and long-standing terrestrial mammal monitoring program globally.
Conservationists must determine the survival of dormouse populations beyond woodland areas and identify potential methods of assistance for these populations.
PTES introduced a tunnel survey for dormouse footprints last year to oversee non-woodland areas such as hedgerows and scrubland. Informal reports indicate that certain dormice are flourishing in scrubby areas near roads and railways.
White stated that by obtaining data from sites other than woodlands, they can broaden their focus for conservation efforts. This, in turn, is expected to help counteract the decline.
Since 1993, a yearly plan to reintroduce dormice has successfully increased their population. Over 1,112 hazel dormice have been released into 25 woodlands across 13 counties. Additional releases have occurred in certain locations to promote genetic variation. As a result, dormice now inhabit six English counties, primarily in the Midlands and northern regions where they were previously absent.
Significant efforts have been made to restore and link important habitats for dormice in Warwickshire and north Wales through large-scale landscape projects. In addition, hedgerow planting has been carried out in Yorkshire and Hampshire to provide secure pathways and nesting opportunities between woodlands.
According to their research, PTES is urging for dormice to be moved from the “vulnerable” to “endangered” category on the IUCN red list. This would elevate their status and lead to more focused conservation measures.
“We are aware of effective methods for protecting dormice, but we require additional funding to implement them on a national scale.”
There is still hope, as efforts such as reintroductions, monitoring, research, and landscape projects provide a chance for survival – and some groups are even growing in numbers. However, we must take extensive measures on a larger scale to avoid the worst outcome.