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Study to unlock secrets of Cheshire’s sleepiest creature
A new project led by Cheshire Wildlife Trust will discover more about one of the region’s most secretive animals, the dormouse.
The common dormouse or hazel dormouse was last recorded in the wild in Cheshire over a century ago, however during 1996 and 1997 a project saw a number of the tiny mammals re-introduced to a secret location in south Cheshire.
Their introduction to the woodland was supported by the installation of over 250 nesting boxes specially designed for use by dormice, to compliment other natural nesting opportunities provided by trees and brambles. These same boxes allow researchers to locate the dormice easily whilst minimising disturbance to their lifecycle.
The new study funded by Chester Zoo and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) is enabling researchers to discover more about this elusive but endearing mammal that spends almost three quarters of its life asleep.
The study will also be the first of its kind undertaken on a re-introduced population of dormice and includes the use of microchip technology.
Dormice are now largely restricted to southern England, with populations also remaining in the Lake District, Wales, Yorkshire and the North East.
Changes in woodland management, loss of hedgerows and an overall decline in broadleaved forests across the UK have all led to the dramatic drop in dormouse numbers.
“The loss and fragmentation of woodland has a combined affect on dormice, something which is a particular issue within the Cheshire region” says Sarah Bennett, Cheshire Region Biodiversity Manager.
“As woodlands become smaller and further apart, it becomes increasingly difficult for animals to cover the open ground between the remaining patches, an issue that dormice particularly struggle to overcome.”
Nida Al-Fulaij, Development Manager at PTES said “More than 600 dormice have been released at 17 sites across the country and the survival rates are high, demonstrating the success of this project as part of the long-term national conservation strategy. We look forward to hearing the results from this study and learning more about this wonderful creature.”
The study hopes to review what has happened in the last 15 years at the Cheshire release site and shed light on how the dormouse can be better protected for the future, including how it may be able to expand the range of its fragile population in the county.
Sarah Bird, Chester Zoo’s Biodiversity Officer added “I’m looking forward to the findings of this project as many zoo staff and vets have contributed to the data collection, and it will help us to plan more conservation work for dormice in Cheshire.”
To find out more about the wider conservation of dormice you can find information on the Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s web site.