The elusive and sadly endangered hazel dormouse is renowned for being hard to spot. They sleep most of the day and at night they run along branches within thick hedgerows or climb high in trees, tracking down their favourite foods of hazelnuts, berries and insects.

One of the main threats faced by dormice, driving their decline, is the loss of suitable habitat. Traditionally managed coppice woodlands provide a well-connected understory for dormice to climb and move about in arboreally (among tree canopies), yet these habitats are few and far between in modern Britain. Similarly, with the removal and deterioration of species-rich hedges, dormice habitat is becoming increasingly fragmented which does not lend itself to dispersal and reproducing.

Signs left by dormice can be found in the wild in the form of chewed hazelnuts that have a perfectly round and smooth hole – very different to gnaw marks left by other rodent species. Dormouse nests are usually carefully woven balls of grass and honeysuckle bark wrapped in leaves which can be as big as a large grapefruit in size.

The hazel dormouse is an indicator species of healthy habitat, meaning if the species is present in good numbers, it is likely the surrounding habitat is diverse and supporting lots of other wildlife too. 


Ruth's Update

By Ruth Moss, Conservation and Mapping Officer for Herefordshire 

I have been working with a group of volunteers to look for evidence of hazel dormice in the hedgerows on Awnells Farm and Turnastone Court Farm. 

As reported in the summer 2022 edition of the CRT’s The Lark magazine, in May we placed 30 footprint tunnels on each of the farms. These were supplied by local ecologist Dave Smith, who is researching how different types of hedgerow support these rare and elusive rodents. 

Volunteers helped me to carry out checks of the footprint tunnels during the summer months. On Awnells Farm, we checked the tunnels 10 times and found dormouse footprints in 86% of the tunnels. 72% of those used by dormice showed activity four or more times. On Turnastone Court Farm, we checked the footprint tunnels biweekly nine times. Dormouse footprints were found inside 21 of the 30 tunnels (70%), with a total of 58 separate recordings of footprints.  

Even though the tunnels are only intended to observe footprints, on 26 August at Awnells Farm I discovered a small woven nest of grass poking out the end of one of them. Given the nest’s structure, shape and position (as well as footprints on the card at the end of the season), it is clear that this was constructed by a dormouse to shelter in during the day. These nests tend to be smaller than nests built for raising young. 

The evidence we gathered doesn’t seem to show a link between how close the tunnel was to woodland, where dormice are traditionally known to live, and the frequency of dormice footprints. This suggests that the hedgerows are providing good quality habitat for the dormice, however, a more rigorous study would be needed to confirm this.  

On Awnells Farm the hedges are particularly species-rich, wide, dense and managed on rotation. Each section of hedge is cut around every three years (excluding roadside and powerlines which are required to be cut every year). Also, past hedge laying on Awnells Farm has no doubt contributed to hedge longevity and quality. Hedge laying is the most beneficial management technique for both wildlife and livestock because it improves hedge structure while using little machinery, which can be a risk to hibernating dormice.  

The data we’ve gathered has been sent to Dave Smith to contribute to his study, part of his Master’s degree in Applied Ecology at the University of Gloucestershire. Read more about this here. 

How you can help 

We are currently running twelve appeals to support the countryside in our Twelve Gifts of Christmas campaign. This includes raising money to buy materials for our wonderful volunteers to build specially designed boxes for hazel dormice on our farms, providing shelter from predators. You can make a donation from yourself or as a Christmas gift for friends and family at Shelters for endangered dormice  

Read more about our conservation activities protecting wildlife across our farms please see our Wildlife Blog