Dormice waking from hibernation ‘to discover a bigger, better world’

The dormice of Wensleydale will have a nice surprise as they awaken from hibernation this year, thanks to a major conservation effort over the past few months. Annunciata Elwes explains.

Two fledgling populations of native endangered dormice in Wensleydale should now be waking from their winter slumber to discover a bigger, wider world, as local landowners and farmers have completed a six-mile corridor of woodland and hedgerow either side of Freeholders’ Wood at Aysgarth Falls.

The three-year Wensleydale Dormouse Project, which is funded by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Woodland Trust, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and Millennium Trust, among others, is part of the PTES’s National Dormouse Monitoring Programme. Giving the populations room to roam is vital, as dormice are almost entirely arboreal and need to be able to walk along branches, hopping from one tree or bush to another.

‘They do best in a shrub environment. They need hawthorn, blackthorn, spindle, hazel — especially hazel — bird cherry and dog rose,’ explains Phill Hibbs, trees and woodlands officer for the National Park Authority.

‘Small woodlands are stepping stones for the dormice as they go down the dale.’

In the past 100 years, dormice have become extinct in 17 English counties and have declined countrywide by 51% since 2000, due to climate change and loss of woodland habitat. ‘Unless we do something, populations either become completely unviable or they are pretty much restricted to nature reserves,’ warns Ian White, PTES dormouse and training officer.

Since 1993, almost every year has seen a reintroduction and the two populations in Wensleydale that are benefiting from the new corridor were new in 2008 and 2016.