There are calls to declare Britain’s native common dormouse an endangered species, amid claims the creature is experiencing ‘a historic and catastrophic’ decline.
The dormouse faces an uncertain future, say conservationists, with a landmark report released today estimating that numbers have plummeted by more than 70% since 2000.
Hazel – or common – dormice are small, native rodents with soft caramel-coloured fur, a furry fluffy tail and big eyes.
They are also deemed to be a ‘key indicator species’ – meaning that where there are dormice there is usually wider animal and plant diversity too.
However, native dormice populations are thought to now be locally extinct from 20 English counties – with native dormice having been lost from Staffordshire, Northumberland and Hertfordshire since the previous study in 2019.
The ‘State of Britain’s Dormice 2023 report, released on Friday, is calling for the status of the species to be escalated from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’ on the IUCN Red List.
Wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species, which produced the research, says despite their ‘endearing appearance’ the mouse is in grave danger.
Habitat loss, degradation and poor management of Britain’s woodlands and hedgerows – all compounded by a changing climate - are cited as some reasons behind their decline.
The data collected for reports is gathered via the group’s National Dormouse Monitoring Programme and involves volunteers regularly checking hundreds of nest boxes located in woodland sites across the country. The work, says the charity, gives valuable insights into how populations are changing.
But the report, combined with other recent research - says PTES - points towards the species needing to be reclassified, which would make the mouse a higher priority species and could result in increased targeted conservation efforts to try and reverse their chronic decline.
Ian White, Dormouse & Training Officer at People’s Trust for Endangered Species explains: “If the decline continues at the same rate, in another 30 years dormouse populations will have fallen by 94% since 2000, which we simply cannot let happen.
“Armed with the latest facts we need to continue pushing for dormice to urgently be reclassified as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List, and we need to start rolling-out more footprint tunnel surveys (as well as nest box checks) in non-woodland habitats such as hedgerows, scrub, roadside and railway verges.
“Footprint tunnels will allow us to gain a more complete picture of how dormice are faring across multiple habitats rather than just woodlands. Once we have data from non-woodland sites too, we can target conservation efforts more widely which we hope will start to reverse the decline.”
Despite alarming top line statistics, say PTES, there is a glimmer of hope for dormice as tireless work continues to combat their decline.
PTES manages the annual dormouse reintroduction programme, which continues to bolster existing populations with over 1,112 hazel dormice having been released into 25 different woodlands in 13 counties.
This initiative has ensured that dormice are now present in six English counties they had previously been lost from – the majority of which are in the Midlands and northern England.
Large-scale landscape projects to restore and connect prime dormouse habitat have also been implemented in Warwickshire and north Wales, hedgerow planting - offering dormice safe passage and nesting sites between woodlands - has taken place in Yorkshire and Hampshire, and volunteer dormouse groups across the country continue to monitor and record local populations.
Work is also being ploughed into training woodland managers to encourage them to manage their land more sympathetically for dormice and other species.
Ian White added: “Dormice continue to face an uncertain future as our climate and countryside change. Declines on this scale cannot be fixed overnight, so it will take time before we see if our conservation work is effective.
“We know what works for dormice, but we urgently need increased funding to implement this nationally. Hope is not lost as reintroductions, monitoring, research and landscape projects offer a lifeline - and some populations appear to be thriving - but we need to do everything we can on a much bigger scale to prevent the worst case from happening.”