ANIMAL lovers are delighted at an increase in the area’s rare hazel dormouse population.
A survey conducted by researchers and volunteers at Cheshire Wildlife Trust has revealed the region’s only population of the mammals had grown for the first time in several years.
Teams from the North West Dormice Partnership were concerned that the 15-year project had shown signs the mice in Cheshire are not breeding quickly enough to sustain future growth.
However, the initial gloomy outlook has lifted after the survey discovered not only a total of 12 dormice across the 180 specially-designed nesting boxes, but also a family of four young dormice and one extremely healthy adult weighing 30 grammes.
Sue Tatman, from Cheshire Wildlife Trust, who has followed the progress of the county’s rarest mammal since the beginning, said: “Almost 200 nesting boxes were installed at the start, which aids both our annual research visits and in providing an artificial home-from-home for the mice.
“Ironically, if the mice are then taking to natural nest sites such as old holes in trees or in the undergrowth it’s excellent news, however it makes them much harder to track and monitor.”
Weighing just a few grammes, the tiny mammals, which were lost to the wild in the early 1900s, survive today in a single Cheshire woodland after being re-introduced with the help of captive-bred hazel dormice during 1996-97.
With the help of Chester Zoo and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) in 2005, the project used microchip technology.
However the mice must still be captured to be scanned and given a health check.
Nida Al Fulaij, from PTES, added: “Hazel dormice used to be widespread across the country but over the last century have suffered a decline across much of their northern range due to removal of hedgerows and a reduction in woodland management.
“This release programme, one of more than a dozen across the UK, aims to restore these charismatic creatures back to their former range.”
The hazel (common) dormouse
* The hazel dormouse is six to nine centimetres long, with a tail of 5.7 to 7.5 centimetres.
* It weighs 17 to 20 grammes, although this increases to 30 to 40 grammes just before hibernation.
* The hazel dormouse usually hibernates from October to April-May. In the UK, dormice are now largely restricted to southern England, with populations also remaining in the Lake District, Wales, Yorkshire and the North East.
* It is thought the last wild dormice in Cheshire were seen close to Crewe in the early 1900s.