DORMICE released into the Yorkshire Dales National Park are feeling right at home – in fact they’ve already started raising young.
The wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) released 20 breeding pairs of rare hazel dormice - Muscardinus avellanarius - into a woodland near Aysgarth in Wensleydale in the hope they would settle in to their new surroundings.
After the first checks of the woodland by trained and licensed staff from the national park, the initial results are very encouraging.
The park's wildlife conservation officer Ian Court said that, three months on from their release, the early results show that the scheme is going very well.
“We did a spot check on the nest boxes we put up and 11 of them were occupied with 34 dormice,” he said.
“This included 13 juveniles and the same number of small young still dependent on their mothers. There were also 13 unoccupied dormouse nests in other boxes scattered through the wood.
“All in all it is particularly pleasing that we have a good number of litters and that we found dormice in boxes well away from the release cages," he said.
“The presence of so many young so early in the scheme is extremely encouraging and bodes really well for the project – it all looks good for the coming years.”
This year’s reintroduction follows a similar event in 2008 when dormice returned to nearby Freeholders’ Wood at Aysgarth Falls after a century’s absence from the Yorkshire Dales.
“The results from this spot check are comparable with those from the first post-release monitoring date undertaken at Freeholders’ – which is extremely promising,” Ian said.
The PTES and the park authority are working towards improving the habitat between the two sites so that they will eventually link up and create a larger, sustainable population.
A further survey will be undertaken this month before the animals go into hibernation.
PTES dormouse officer Ian White said: “Once a familiar sight throughout much of England and Wales, over the past 100 years dormice have suffered from the loss of woodlands and hedgerows, as well as changes to traditional countryside management practices. As a result, the species is now rare and vulnerable to extinction.
“The dormouse reintroduction programme aims to restore our hazel dormice to areas of the country where they were known to exist in Victorian times.”
The reintroductions play an important role in the long-term conservation of this endangered species and are part of the Species Recovery Programme supported by Natural England.
The release follows the culmination of weeks of work by all of the partners involved in the different stages of the reintroduction process, including Natural England, Zoological Society of London, Paignton Zoo, Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group, and the Bolton Estate.