The common dormouse…or maybe not so common?

I was reading an article in The Week Junior magazine and was surprised to find that the common dormouse population has decreased by more than 70 per cent in just over two decades. I was sad to read that scientists have warned that dormice now face a very real danger of becoming extinct.

Dormice live in dense woodland, hedgerows and thick shrubbery across Europe. The reason scientists have given for their decline is the loss of this natural habitat, poor woodland management and climate change. This is having a dramatic impact on the dormouse population.

The biggest study into the population of dormice is the annual report The State of Britain’s Dormice published by a wildlife charity, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES). 

The article in The Guardian mentioned that as part of the National Dormouse Monitoring programme that ran from 1990-2015, annual counts were undertaken at 400 sites between May and June to measure the dormouse population.   

I did some more research and found in The Independent a similar article detailing the decline of the dormouse. Professor Robbie McDonald, a colleague of Cecily Goodwin of Exeter University, who is leading the new study, said that “more active woodland management was needed, rather than less, to help preserve dormice”.

Woodlands were traditionally managed through coppicing, which provided varied food and plenty of light for Dormice. Coppicing means cutting back trees to ground level to stimulate growth. This practice has been mostly forgotten and remaining woodland in the UK has been divided by roads and railways. Hedgerows have also been lost in large numbers.

Coppiced woodland is not only good for the dormice, it’s also good for variety of other animals, as well as for shooting because it provides ground cover for game. As part of estate management, shoots should consider coppicing more of their land to help with conservation and especially the problems dormice are facing. 

According to the Wild Wood Trust, the dormouse is “one of the most distinctive small mammals native to Britain (…) easily recognised by its furry tail, sandy-orange coloured fur and bulging black eyes”.

Fun Fact: Dormouse are the only small British rodent with a furry tail!

Dormice get their name from the French word dormir, which means ‘to sleep’. Dormice sleep for most of the day as they are nocturnal (active at night). This is why I have not been able to take any pictures! They also normally sleep hidden in trees or special nest boxes.

Another fun fact is that dormice are one of only three mammals that hibernate, the other two being bats and hedgehogs – also currently endangered. Interestingly, nobody quite knows where dormice hibernate over the cold winter months.

You can help dormice by adopting one, volunteering or donating money to the Wild Wood Trust (visit https://wildwoodtrust.org/wildwood-kent/how-you-can-help)