For the first time in 100 years, dormice have the freedom to roam among the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales, thanks to a project to restore their delicate natural habitat.
Landowners and farmers in Wensleydale have grown a six-mile continuous stretch of woodland and hedgerows to provide a highway to join up two fledgeling populations of the charming native mammals.
Dormice have declined by 51% since 2000, according to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), and the three-year Wensleydale Dormouse Project is just one part of the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, a wider national scheme to reintroduce dormice to parts of the country where they have died out.
“They’ve become extinct in 17 English counties in the last 100 years, so it has to be said it doesn’t take a genius to work out there comes a point where, unless we do something, populations either become completely unviable or they’re just pretty much restricted to nature reserves,” said Ian White, PTES dormouse and training officer.
Records show that dormice were living in Wensleydale in 1885, but became locally extinct. Though they were reintroduced to one woodland in 2008 and a neighbouring one eight years later, the two populations would struggle to join or spread without newly created vegetation.
White, who led the project, with additional funding from the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, the Woodland Trust and the national park authority, said locals have been very keen to help. “People like to work with dormice,” he said. “They are in no way a pest species, so farmers and landowners kind of feel it’s a privilege to have them on their land.
“One thing that the pandemic has perhaps done is make people seem a bit more aware of their local landscape, the local environment, and actually start to value a little bit of what we might lose if we don’t actually do something about it.
“If you get it right for dormice, you help a broad range of other species as well.”
Since 1993, a reintroduction has taken place approximately every year. In Warwickshire, 79 dormice were released in 2017 and 2018, across two different woodlands, and the early indications are that populations there are growing.
Loss of quality woodland habitat and climate change are key factors in the dormouse’s decline, so it is not as simple as breeding the animals and releasing them.