Help for the Hazel Dormouse

I was sad to wake up to some disheartening news about the hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) yesterday. According to a new report by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, the native population of this mouse species has dropped a third in sixteen years.

The hazel dormouse is now only found in parts of southern England and the Welsh borders and is currently “vulnerable to extinction in Britain”. The reasons for their decline include agricultural practices, loss of hedgerow habitat, alterations to woodland management methods and the consequent fragmentation of this woodland.

To thrive, dormice need areas of woodland connected by hedgerows; these wildlife corridors enable them to spread. They also build their ball-shaped nests in these hedgerows and use the woodland cover to hibernate from October to May. Hazel dormice did particularly well when the trees were coppiced. This management technique involved cutting a tree to its base and leaving it; when the tree regrew it branched into two separate trunks, providing more fruit for the mice to feed on. However, in many cases the areas of woodland changed too quickly for the mice to adapt. Two thirds of native hedgerow were lost, leaving the mice that survived isolated from food sources and other mice to breed with.

For the past 25 years, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species has been running the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme (NDMP). Several hundred monitors have the important responsibility of carrying out surveys using dormouse boxes and recording their sightings. Anyone interested in becoming a monitor would need to obtain a dormouse licence from Natural England or Natural Resources Wales. However, the Trust also accepts one-off sightings via the National Dormouse Database, so anyone can help the valuable work the Trust is doing. As dormice are protected by government and regarded as a priority for conservation action, the monitoring of a used nest box requires a licence.

The Trust have also carried out 24 reintroductions, meaning the dormice are now present in six of the counties in which they had previously been extinct. Although the reintroduced populations have died at five of the chosen sites, at another five the individuals successfully spread through their new woodland habitat. At another seven of the sites, the dormice ventured further into the woodland and into the surrounding farmland, making their reintroduction a huge success. Following a reintroduction in June 2015, evidence of breeding has been gathered, including footage of a young dormouse getting to grips with climbing trees. The short clip by Lorna Griffiths is well worth the watch.

Anyone wanting to know more about the dormouse reintroductions can follow the link to the Natural England website. Although I was sad to hear that hazel dormice are struggling, the news prompted me to research and write this post, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning more about these enchanting animals.

Battle for Bluebells!

As I was home for the Easter holiday, I decided to look into some volunteering work in my local area. A Google search led me to Heartwood Forest, a Woodland Trust site seven miles from my house. There’s currently a project running, encouraging visitors to pledge to protect the bluebells, as many patches in Langley Wood have been destroyed as a result of trampling underfoot.



Previously agricultural land, Heartwood Forest has been transformed into a beautiful area of ancient woodland. Five hundred thousand trees have been planted, and a community orchard full of fruit trees is in progress. Children are encouraged to use a special area for playing and building dens, so as not to trample the bluebells and other flora before they have a chance to bloom.

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Next week, I’m returning to Heartwood Forest to lend a hand in spreading the message about protecting our bluebells. The site is the largest new native forest in England (St Albans City and District Council, 2014), so it’s very important that all visitors to the forest – families, horse riders or dog walkers – understand the threat to our bluebells.


  • St Albans City and District Council (2014) Heartwood Forest. Available at: (Accessed: 27 march 2016)
  • Woodland Trust (2013) Heartwood Forest. Available at: (Accessed: 27 March 2016)