Presented by Binzy Reynolds:
Managing woodlands to a greater extent could prevent the decline of Britain’s dormice, new research suggests.
Dormouse numbers are falling in Britain. Scientists say this could reflect changes in climate, along with the composition and structure of woodland habitats. The findings, from two new studies led by the University of Exeter, show dormice favour woodland with varied heights, plus areas of regrowth, including species such as hazel and yew that provide the flowers, fruits and nuts dormice enjoy. Researchers are calling for a return to active woodland management, coppicing, glade creation and small-scale tree felling, to create a “mosaic” of trees of different ages and sizes, especially areas of new growth and medium-height trees.
Dormouse numbers are higher in woodlands with more varied tree heights and dense scrubby areas. They prefer to use areas of woodland edge, dense trees and shrubs and farmland hedgerows when they move around at night.
“Habitats that we found to be good for dormice have been in decline,” said lead author Dr Cecily Goodwin. Dr Goodwin is also a research technician at the Environment and Sustainability Institute on the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.
“Dormouse conservation would benefit from more broadleaf woodland in the landscape and more diverse woodland structure – ranging from new growth and scrub to mid-height woodland, to old trees.”
Professor Robbie McDonald, who directed the research, said: “There has been a decline of woodland management that creates diverse forests, and an increase in large stands of mature, single-age trees, which are not such good habitats for dormice or various other declining woodland species, such as some birds and butterflies.”
Wildlife charity, People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), has been collecting population data on hazel dormice for over 20 years. These records are collated within the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme (NDMP).
Using NDMP data from 300 sites across England and Wales (there are no dormice in Scotland), the researchers investigated hazel dormouse numbers, breeding and population trends in relation to climate, landscape, habitat and woodland management.
Nida Al-Fulaij, Grants Manager at PTES said, “PTES has been working hard to understand the ecology of hazel dormice and the conservation issues they face for over twenty years. With data collected by hundreds of dedicated volunteers, this research will enable us to work closely with woodland owners to ensure a brighter future for one of Britain’s best-loved animals.”
Discovering hibernating dormice benefit from consistently cold winters, researchers said variable winters are the most likely cause of the sleepy rodents wasting energy. They will wake up early then return to hibernation. Climatic changes in Britain are likely to have contributed to dormouse declines. The papers are entitled: ‘Habitat preferences of hazel dormice Muscardinus avellanarius and the effects of tree-felling on their movement’ (published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management) and ‘Climate, landscape, habitat, and woodland management associations with hazel dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius population status’ (published in Mammal Review).
Both studies were funded by the Forestry Commission and NERC, and the Mammal Review study was supported by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species. Dormice are also protected under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.