RARE hazel dormice have been released into the wild in south Warwickshire in an attempt to stem the decline of the endangered species.
They have become extinct in 17 English counties since the end of the 19th century and populations are declining elsewhere.
That can be attributed to the loss of woodland and hedgerow habitat, as well as changes to traditional countryside management practices.
Wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and Warwickshire Wildlife Trust are keeping the location the dormice have been released into a secret to allow them to settle in.
The dormice are captive-bred by members of the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group.
Prior to that they have undergone a six-week quarantine at the Zoological Society of London and Paignton Zoo in Devon, during which vets conducted a full health examination to check they are in top condition and to reduce the risk of them passing non-native disease.
They are released in breeding pairs or trios in their own wooden nest box, which is fitted inside a mesh cage secured to trees.
The cages are filled with food and water to help them to their new home in the wild. The cages are opened after about ten days to allow the dormice out into their new woodland home and are eventually removed once they have settled into the wood.
Ian White, PTES’ dormouse officer, said the charismatic creatures were in critical need of help. “The reintroductions are important for the long-term conservation of this species, as we’re restoring dormice to counties where they’ve been lost so that they can thrive again.
“This is a great start in beginning to combat their decline. Our approach also benefits a whole raft of other species, including birds, bats and butterflies.”
The reintroduction marks the culmination of weeks of work by partners PTES, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, Natural England, Zoological Society of London, Paignton Zoo and the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group.
There was a successful reintroduction at Windmill Naps neat Tanworth-in-Arden in 2009, where 46 hazel dormice were returned to the wood.
A another reintroduction is also planned at a woodland near to the 2017 site.
Over the last 24 years, more than 864 dormice have been released at 22 different sites across 12 English counties.
PTES is also managing a nationwide dormouse monitoring scheme, coordinating annual reintroductions, and advising landowners about empathetic land management practices.