A litter of endangered hazel dormice pups born at wildlife conservation charity ‘Wildwood Trust’ in Kent has ensured a vital new bloodline for the species.
Due to habitat loss, climate change and changes to woodland management practices, the hazel dormouse has been declining for many years; it was recorded in 2019 that there was a total 51% decline in dormouse population since the millennium.
The birth of the pups is a beacon of hope for the species, as they will be released into the English countryside to boost the wild population.
The father of the new litter at Wildwood Trust was found injured in a woodland in Suffolk and rescued by a dormouse conservationist at Suffolk Wildlife Trust before he was brought to the charity and mated with a dormouse female there, providing essential new genes to the conservation breeding pool.
The pups, two females and two males, are about 2.5 weeks old and will be reliant on their mum’s milk for another 2-3 weeks.
This is only the second litter of dormice born at Wildwood this year and the four precious little ones were a most welcome surprise. The charity were not sure whether this particular pair of dormice would breed, as the male only has three legs and struggled to learn to climb and move around again, after this leg was amputated on arrival at Wildwood Trust, due to infection from his injury.
These pups and many other dormice will be released into the wild next year as part of Wildwood Trust’s dormouse conservation programme, in partnership with the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group.
As southern England has a more stable population of dormice, the pups will most likely be released in another county to help boost the populations outside of the south.
”Genetics are extremely important if the hazel dormouse is going to be able to bounce back in the long run in the UK. Any new bloodline makes a huge difference to our breeding programme, increasing the diversity of genes that we are able to put back into the wild and improving the chance of the new populations surviving long term.” Said Hazel Ryan, Senior Conservation Officer and dormice expert at Wildwood Trust.
The coronavirus pandemic has been a challenge for all wildlife conservation work, with most reintroductions and releases postponed and wildlife charities like Wildwood Trust struggling to find space for the remaining animals.
As shown on Countryfile
BBC Countryfile recently told the story of Wildwood Trust’s work with dormice.
Catch the programme here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000kycn