A NEW report has revealed that Britain’s population of hazel dormice has declined by more than half since the start of the 21st century.

The People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) says that its report, The State of Britain’s Dormice 2019, underlines the importance of providing the right habitat for dormice, and maintaining such habitats via correct woodland management practices, is the key to bringing this endangered species back from the brink.

Hazel dormice are already extinct from 17 counties in England. The areas where they are still known to exist are almost all entirely south of a line between Shropshire and Suffolk.

Ian White, dormouse and training officer at PTES, said: “The decline in dormouse numbers is due to the loss and fragmentation of their natural woodland and hedgerow habitats, as well as climate change.

"In particular, it’s the loss of habitat quality that’s of real concern. Sympathetic woodland management is essential for the recovery of dormice.

"Whether woodlands are managed for timber or public access, shrubby areas should be created beneath the tree canopy.

"These provide dormice, and many other species with areas to nest and feed in while also being able to access the mature trees. It is this variety of woodland habitats required to help dormice survive.”

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Hazel dormice are arboreal mammals who prefer structurally diverse habitats – they use tree holes to nest in, dense woodland understory to raise their young and feed in, and hedgerows and bramble banks to disperse through.

Critically, the way in which woodlands are managed has changed – with traditional management practices such as coppicing, glade creation and small-scale tree felling (which once created mosaic habits) becoming less common, and as a result many of the woodlands we see today simply aren’t suitable for dormice.

These factors, combined with unseasonable or extreme weather (which can affect survival over the winter and impact on their ability to raise young), can be detrimental to dormice survival.

Despite this, there are some areas where dormice numbers are increasing. At 96 of 336 sites (29 per cent) analysed for this report, populations were ‘stable’ or ‘increasing’.

Mr White said: “Although the State of Britain’s 2019 report shows a severe decline has taken place over the last 18 years, the good news is that in some areas dormice are doing well.

"We can help bring this species back if we alter the way we manage our landscape. By providing enough of the right habitat, which is well-connected and managed correctly, dormice, as well as a huge amount of other wildlife, can thrive once again across the country.”