Infrared video footage of rare hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) in the wild has been captured at
a nature reserve on the Isle of Wight.
The People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) footage is significant because it shows dormice on a special bridge designed to help this tree-dwelling species cross barriers created by humans in the natural environment, such as roads and railways, by linking fragmented and isolated habitat.
This is the first project of its kind in the UK, which aims to demonstrate the preferential use, or not, of an arboreal bridge by dormice and other mammals in the wild.
Dormice were once widespread throughout much of England and Wales, but the species is now rare and vulnerable to extinction. Over the past 100 years, their range and population has diminished significantly due to both the loss of woodlands and hedgerows, and the cessation of traditional habitat management practices such as coppicing. When active, dormice typically stay in the tree and shrub canopy to avoid predators on the ground, so habitat that has been chopped up by roads, railways or other human development threatens the long-term survival and dispersal of isolated populations.
Ian White, Dormouse Officer at PTES said: “The footage shows promising signs that dormice are using the arboreal bridge, and that it could also be beneficial to other wildlife. However, it’s early days yet and we need to continue monitoring the bridge to gather more evidence that dormice prefer to use it rather than the ground. If our additional research shows that they do prefer to use the bridge, then this could lead to a standardised design that could be used as a mitigation strategy in the UK and also as an aid to facilitate dormouse dispersal from existing isolated populations.”
The bridge prototype has been designed and built in the UK but was inspired by a successful conservation project in Japan. PTES will conduct further research at the Isle of Wight nature reserve in spring 2016.
Earlier this year, PTES reintroduced twenty breeding pairs of captive-bred dormice into an undisclosed woodland in Nottinghamshire as part of long-term conservation plans for this endangered species.
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NOTES FOR EDITORS
PTES is a UK conservation charity created in 1977 to ensure a future for endangered species throughout the world. Working to protect some of our most threatened wildlife species and habitats, it provides practical conservation support through funding research and internships; providing grant-aid for world-wide and native mammals species conservation; supporting education, training and outreach programmes; and driving public participation via wildlife monitoring surveys, publications, campaigns and events. Priority species and habitats include hazel dormice, hedgehogs, water voles, noble chafer and stag beetles and traditional orchards and native woodlands.
Visit www.ptes.org for more information about PTES or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
About the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme (NDMP)
The NDMP is co-funded by People’s Trust for Endangered Species and Natural England and has been running for over 25 years over 400 sites. It is one of only a handful of mammal programmes contributing long-term data on population trends. The NDMP relies completely on the enthusiastic commitment of volunteers who collect dormouse data annually at over 300 monitoring sites all over the country. Dormice population numbers and density in their remaining range are monitored by putting up nest boxes similar to bird boxes on hazel trees and checking the boxes for occupancy at regular intervals. The results are held in a database which is used to assess the status of the species over time.
About dormouse reintroductions
Dormouse reintroductions play an important role in the long-term conservation of this endangered species and are part of the Species Recovery Programme supported by Natural England.
PTES worked in consultation with Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust to carefully select locations for reintroductions in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
The dormice that were released were captive bred through the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group. Prior to release, they undergo thorough checks with vets at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Paignton Zoo in Devon to make sure they are healthy and have the best chance of survival. Following the health checks, the dormice are then released on-site in breeding pairs in their own wooden nest box fitted inside a mesh cage secured to trees. The mesh cages, filled with food and water, help the dormice adjust to their new home in the wild. The cages are eventually removed once the animals have settled into the wood.
2015 marks the 25th dormouse reintroduction by PTES; over the last 22 years, more than 750 dormice have been released at 19 different sites across 12 English counties.