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Press release: Rare hazel dormice reintroduced into a Warwickshire woodland

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Wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and partners, are today [Tuesday 20 June] releasing 19 breeding pairs of rare hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) into an undisclosed woodland location in Warwickshire, near Royal Leamington Spa, in an attempt to stem the decline of this endangered species.

With their soft caramel fur, furry tail and big black eyes, hazel dormice are without question one of Britain’s most endearing mammals, but sadly these charismatic creatures are also endangered. The decline can be attributed to the loss of woodland and hedgerow habitat, as well as changes to traditional countryside management practices. As a result, hazel dormice have become extinct from 17 English counties since the end of the 19th century and populations are declining. This is an animal in critical need of help.

Ian White, PTES’ Dormouse Officer explains: “Our dormouse conservation work involves managing a nationwide dormouse monitoring scheme, coordinating annual reintroductions and advising land owners about empathetic land management practices. The reintroductions are important for the long-term conservation of this species, as we’re restoring dormice to counties where they’ve been lost so that they can thrive again. This is a great start in beginning to combat their decline. Our approach also benefits a whole raft of other species including birds, bats and butterflies.”

Chris Redstall, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s Living Landscape Scheme Manager continues: “This year’s reintroduction is part of our Princethorpe Woodlands Living Landscape Scheme, which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and aims to restore ancient wooded landscapes connected by hedgerows and trees – two ideal habitats for growing hazel dormice populations. We would like to thank National Lottery players for their support.”

Today’s reintroduction marks the culmination of weeks of work by partners PTES, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, Natural England, Zoological Society of London, Paignton Zoo and the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group, who are all involved in different stages building up to dormouse day:

• The dormice being released are captive bred by members of the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group
• Prior to release, the dormice undergo a six-week quarantine at ZSL (Zoological Society of London), and Paignton Zoo in Devon, during which vets conduct a full health examination to check they are in top condition and reduce the risk of them passing non-native disease, so that they have the best chance of forming a healthy population in the wild.

Following the health checks, the dormice are then released on-site in breeding pairs or trios 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 acclimatise to their new home in the wild. The cages are opened after about 10 days to allow the dormice out into their new woodland home and are eventually removed once the animals have settled into the wood.

Dormouse reintroductions are part of Natural England’s Species Recovery Programme, with this reintroduction following an earlier successful release at Windmill Naps in Warwickshire in 2009, where 46 hazel dormice were returned to the wood. A future reintroduction is also planned at a woodland near the 2017 release site, aiming to link the hedgerows between the two hazel dormouse hotspots, allowing the two separate groups to interbreed, creating a larger self-sustaining population.

The Heritage Lottery Funding is a tremendous boost for wildlife and people in this special area of ancient Warwickshire woodlands. Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is working on a landscape-scale level of action for wildlife in the area, allowing the Trust to restore 300 hectares of ancient woodland, 20km of historic hedgerows, which includes old parish boundaries, 15 ponds and 20 hectares of flower-rich grassland over the next four years.

This Warwickshire reintroduction marks the 27th dormouse reintroduction led by PTES. Over the last 24 years, more than 864 dormice have been released at 22 different sites across 12 English counties.

This week will also see some new research [published on Wednesday 21 June] from the University of Exeter, which highlights the steep decline in hazel dormice numbers over the past twenty years, based upon data from PTES’ National Dormouse Monitoring Programme. The research indicates that dormouse numbers have plummeted by more than 70% [see notes to editors for more information].

– Ends –

For more information, images, or interviews contact Adela Cragg or Jane Bevan at Firebird PR on 01235 835297 or ac@firebirdpr.co.uk or @firebird_pr

There will be live updates about the reintroduction throughout the day, follow People’s Trust for Endangered Species on Facebook or @PTES and #dormouseday on Twitter

NOTES TO EDITORS

Supporting quotes

Dr Peter Brotherton, Director, Specialist Services and Programmes, Natural England

“We have seen great success in reintroducing hazel dormice to Warwickshire though our Species Recovery Programme, and today’s release will mean their numbers can grow. This project will also help to restore woodlands and link habitats by planting new hedgerows which will allow our dormouse communities to breed and create a healthier population.”
Tony Sainsbury, Senior Lecturer in Wild Animal Health, ZSL (Zoological Society of London)
“There is a risk that conservation translocations could be counterproductive if non-native diseases are introduced with the endangered animals. Our work aims to reduce this risk through monitoring the health of the dormice before and after release.”
Phil Knowling, Spokesperson, Paignton Zoo
“Paignton Zoo Environmental Park is really pleased to support another year of the Species Recovery Programme by providing dormice for release and carrying out vital health checks. This is a great example of cooperation between a range of organisations and landowners for the greater good one of our most charismatic native species.”
Gina Rowe, Living Landscapes Manager, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust
“We are delighted and excited to welcome hazel dormouse back to the area. They have been absent for too long! – for at least 30 years. This is an historic start of re-establishing the hazel dormouse in the Princethorpe Woodlands Living Landscape area in Warwickshire, in the greatest concentration of ancient woodlands of high wildlife value in the county. This is the culmination of over four years of planning and surveying. We know these woodlands have the ideal mix of habitat and food plant species for hazel dormouse and they should settle in well. This is one of many wildlife conservation projects which form part of the wider Princethorpe Woodlands Living Landscape scheme, supported by Heritage Lottery Fund. We will be holding training days in dormouse survey techniques and ecology, so look out for further details on our website.”
About the reintroduction
• The dormice that will be released have been captive bred through the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group. Prior to release, the dormice undergo thorough checks with vets at the Zoological Society of London and Paignton Zoo in Devon to make sure they are healthy, have the best chance of survival and will not introduce novel diseases to the wild. The dormice are then released on-site in breeding pairs in their own secure wooden nest box fitted inside a mesh cage secured to woodland trees. This helps them adjust to their new home in the wild. Once the initial relocation has taken place, the dormice are checked and fed daily in these cages over a two-week period to help acclimatise them to their new environment. A small door in each cage is then opened so that the dormice are free to explore their new home whilst having the security of the mesh cage and food if needed. These are eventually removed once the animals have settled into the wood.

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 20 years. 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 PTES
• PTES, a UK conservation charity created in 1977, is ensuring a future for endangered species throughout the world. We protect some of our most threatened wildlife species and habitats, and provide practical conservation support through research, grant-aid, educational programmes, wildlife surveys, publications and public events. Our current priority species and habitats include hazel dormice, hedgehogs, water voles, noble chafers, stag beetles, traditional orchards and native woodlands.
• If you want to support PTES’ ongoing conservation work, you can donate £3 by texting ‘PTES17 £3’ to 70070.
• Visit www.ptes.org for more information, or follow PTES on Facebook (www.facebook.com/ptes) and Twitter (@PTES).

About Natural England
• Natural England works with the People’s Trust for Endangered Species to provide an ongoing programme of funding, coordination and monitoring of the dormouse recovery project. Natural England works for people, places and nature to conserve and enhance biodiversity, landscapes and wildlife in rural, urban, coastal and marine areas. They conserve and enhance the natural environment for its intrinsic value, the wellbeing and enjoyment of people, and the economic prosperity it brings. www.naturalengland.org.uk

About Paignton Zoo
• Paignton Zoo Environmental Park is a registered conservation and education charity supporting conservation work in the UK and overseas. The Zoo was founded in 1923 by Herbert Whitley; after he died in 1955, the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) was set up in his name. Today the Trust also runs Living Coasts in Torquay, Newquay Zoo in Cornwall, Primley Park and Clennon Gorge reserves in Paignton, and Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve.

About Warwickshire Wildlife Trust
• Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is the lead partner on the Princethorpe Woodlands Living Landscape scheme and the leading local environmental charity which works for people and wildlife in Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull. The Trust looks after 65 reserves, we are a voluntary membership organisation supported by more than 23,000 members and 1000 volunteers. We were established in 1970. We promote a better natural environment for local wildlife and local people as part of our aim to create a living landscape in the West Midlands where wildlife and local people can live and thrive together. For more information see www.warwickshirewildlifetrust.org.uk.
• The Princethorpe Woodlands Living Landscape Scheme aims to restore an ancient wooded landscape connected by hedgerows, grasslands, trees and ponds, full of historical sites, to one rich in wildlife and accessible to all. The Scheme is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and donations. Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is leading six key partners who are working together to implement the scheme. These are Coventry City Council, Friends of Brandon Wood, Natural England, Rugby Borough Council, Warwick District Council, and Warwickshire County Council, together with many landowners.

About the Zoological Society of London (ZSL)
• Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity whose mission is to promote and achieve the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. Our mission is realised through our ground-breaking science, our active conservation projects in more than 50 countries and our two Zoos, ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. For more information visit www.zsl.org

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