The word dormouse comes from the French word 'dormir' - to sleep. The dormouse is one of the most attractive of Britain's small mammals.


Threats to the Dormouse

The dormouse population is in serious danger, with numbers estimated to have fallen by 52% since 1995. The loss of ancient woodland and hedgerows across the UK is thought to be a major reason for this decline, as dormice will not leave the safety of trees to cross large, open spaces.  In the days when people spent many hours trimming hedges and clearing ditches by hand, or harvesting poles from coppiced trees, many a sleepy dormouse was discovered. Today these jobs are done by machines so dormice are less likely to be noticed. 

Natural predators such as owls, weasels and stoats eat dormice but their decline is almost entirely due to the loss of woodland habitat and changes in woodland management practices; some large woods have been divided into much smaller woods and often these do not provide enough habitat for the dormouse's needs. 

Coppicing, particularly of hazel, was once carried out in many areas. This traditional management provided a perfect habitat for dormice, with spreading branches which acted as pathways, lots of different shrub species and not too much shade from large trees overhead. In some areas, coppicing is once again being carried out, but to suit the dormice there must be a rotation of 15-20 years between coppicing to allow the hazel to bear nuts. Also, the cleared area must not be too large.

The People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) record sightings and have volunteers across the country helping to document dormice data. In 2013, they were sent 6,531 hazel dormice records from 373 sites..

Helping Dormice

The most important thing is to manage woodlands carefully with dormice needs in mind. They can also be helped by putting up nest-boxes in suitable woods. A dormouse nest-box is very like a bird-box, but it has the entrance hole at the back, facing the tree trunk. The People's Trust for Endangered Species has their own Guide to Managing Small Woodlands for Dormice.

Looking for Dormice

Although dormice are very hard to find, it is possible to find out if they are living in a woodland by searching for hazel nut shells that the dormice have opened. They eat them when they are green and still on the tree, but the shells turn brown once they fall to the ground. Other animals eat hazel nuts too but you can usually tell what has opened the nut. Small rodents gnaw holes in the shell and leave characteristic marks around the edge.

Have you spotted a dormouse?

The People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) are recording sightings - tell them about it here by clicking here

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