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TEST VALLEY DORMOUSE PROJECT

The Test Valley Dormouse Project is a partnership between the Woodland Trust, Test Valley Borough Council, Hampshire Dormouse Group and People’s Trust for Endangered Species. The aim is to see greater connectivity and a well-managed wooded habitat within the northern Test Valley, allowing a healthy population of dormice to thrive and eventually spread. The project area has approximately 2,235 ha of woodland, much of which is small and fragmented. Through the creation of natural pathways the project, with the support of local farmers, hopes to create a stronger habitat network which will support existing and future populations.

PROJECT AREA

The Woodland Trust is a primary funder for the project with the dormouse being a key species for them as their Woodland Creation Adviser for the South East, Luke Everitt explains:

“As the UK's largest woodland conservation charity, the Woodland Trust wants to see a UK rich in native woods and trees, for people and wildlife. Ensuring we have a well-connected landscape is important for a number of species, including the Hazel dormouse. We need landowners help across the Test Valley to create new hedgerows and woods. These new corridors will further enhance the Test Valley and create a resilient landscape for the future.”

The project is also being supported by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and their Dormouse and Training Officer, Ian White explains their involvement:

“People’s Trust for Endangered Species has been the lead conservation charity for Hazel dormice for the past 20 years. We recognise that the key factors that have halved the species range and contribute to its continued decline are the lack of appropriate management of both woodlands and hedgerows. We are delighted to be involved in this landscape based project, within the heart of the current dormouse range that seeks to address these issues.”

GLOBAL AND UK DISTRIBUTION OF HAZEL DORMICE

The Hazel dormouse can be found in central Europe as far north as southern Sweden, across the East European Plain almost to the Ural Mountains and skirting south of the Black Sea. In the UK they are most common in the southern counties of England but are absent from Scotland and Northern Ireland.

© PTES

ABOUT THE DORMOUSE (Muscardinus avellanarius)

Dormice are easy to recognise but unlikely to be seen as they are very small, (can be less than 30g/1oz in weight) generally nocturnal, arboreal (preferring to remain in the canopy of their habitat) and hibernate for up to seven months each year between October/November and April/May. Hibernation is the only time they voluntarily drop down to ground level where they make a nest under coppice stools, amongst dead wood or just in leaf litter.

The dormouse has adapted well to what is now considered traditional woodland management including rotational hazel coppicing and the decline in that type of management, particularly in the last 50-70 years, is very likely to have impacted on their population numbers.


Their diet adapts to seasonal changes but each food source is associated with managed, native, deciduous woodland and hedgerows. Hawthorn, honeysuckle and bramble flowers are late spring/early summer favourites and once flowering is over they will move onto invertebrates through the summer and then in the autumn turn to berries, seeds and nuts with hazel nuts being particularly sought after.

Empty hazel nut shells are often used to identify their presence as dormice have a particular method of chewing through the shell which leaves distinctive tooth marks (see right). Given their elusiveness and being a protected species, leaving a durable calling card such as this makes it possible to establish their likely presence without having to disturb them.


Woodland management.

As with all species, there are some basic elements required for survival. Winter food and/or habitat, breeding habitat and summer food for adults and their offspring.

For the dormouse, a good quality, well managed hazel coppice can provide most of these. In winter, the cavities and crevices in the roots of mature hazel stools provide ideal hibernation habitat and the bramble and honeysuckle flowers of a mid-cycle coppice offer the important high energy nectar source so vital for the post-hibernation dormouse to recover some condition in preparation for another breeding season.

A diverse shrub and ground layer together with the warmth of the sunlight that can penetrate the canopy of a growing coppice creates the ideal conditions for invertebrates and the high protein, mid-summer diet of the breeding dormouse.

The more mature coppice then delivers the nut harvest and the opportunity for the dormouse to increase its body reserves in the lead up to its lengthy hibernation period.

This is a slightly idealised version of their habitat as they do live in other deciduous and mixed woodlands as well as large and diverse hedgerows. However, their basic requirements remain the same.

HABITAT MANAGEMENT

Hedgerow management.

Hedgerows are important habitats in their own right as well as connectors across the landscape for many species including the dormouse. A tall, wide, well-structured hedge containing the appropriate species and managed sympathetically can provide the necessary habitat and food requirements and historically it’s thought the hedgerow population was greater than it’s believed to be now.

Their role as connections between existing habitats or as dispersal corridors from existing to new habitat areas is hugely important if dormouse populations are to increase. Even in well-established populations, dormice exist at low densities with there probably being only 3-5 adults per hectare. This means that small woodlands, even when the habitat is ideal, can quickly come under population pressure with young adults needing to establish new territories. Small woodlands, if they are managed, are also more likely to be treated as single management units and therefore potentially lose the diversity of structure that helps sustain a viable population.

Good hedgerows then come into their own by creating the network that links otherwise marginal sites. As dormice are arboreal, the continuity as well as the structure of a hedge becomes extremely important given their reluctance to place themselves at risk down at ground level.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT HELPING DORMICE

Partner representatives:

Luke Everritt - Woodland Trust

Charlotte Rimmer - Test Valley Borough Council

Ian White - People’s Trust for Endangered Species

FWAG SE advisers working on the project:

Matthew Norris-Hill

Debbie Miller

Alex Clayton

Shaun Page

Funded by:

Supported by:

Source:IUCN Species Red List © PTES

Photographs © FWAG and PTES