With huge black eyes and golden-brown fur, hazel dormice are very distinctive nocturnal mammals native to the British Isles. However, this shy species is in decline due to the destruction and fragmentation of their woodland and hedgerow habitats, and milder winters disrupting their hibernation cycle. Over the course of the last century, the hazel dormouse has disappeared from more than half of its former range.
Wild Planet Trust has been working for more than 20 years to help the species stage a comeback through breeding and health screening for reintroduction to wild habitats.
Quarantine and release
This long-running project involves breeding dormice in captivity and finding suitable reintroduction sites before quarantining and releasing them into the wild.
Our participation in this project includes providing a special facility at Paignton Zoo, where animals are quarantined and monitored by our vet team before release. This includes frequent weigh-ins, checking sexes and testing for parasites and diseases that could affect wild populations.
After being released into suitable release sites, the hazel dormice are fed for a few weeks as they acclimatise to their new habitats and explore the wider woodland.
The captive-bred dormice will then be monitored to keep track of their progress. The annual releases, along with careful woodland management, have already proved to be successful, with evidence of dormice dispersing from the release sites to new areas.
This collaboration between organisations and volunteers is not only helping to increase the wild population of hazel dormice, but it also strengthens the case for preserving woodland habitats.
Working in partnership
The project is led by wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species, with partners including the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group, Natural England, Zoological Society of London and Wildwood Trust.
Wild Planet Trust also supports monitoring and habitat management for wild dormice at Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve with the Field Studies Council.