Historical data from 1885 suggest that hazel dormice were once present in Nottinghamshire, though actual woodland locations are not known. The last known population is thought to have become extinct as late as the 1950’s, following the clear-felling of their woodland home.
In 1994/95, as part of the then English Nature’s (now Natural England) Species Recovery Programme, a small population of dormice were reintroduced to Treswell Wood. The woodland is owned by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust (NWT), and at the time of the reintroduction the woodland management was thought to be unsuitable for the species. Despite subsequent monitoring, very few dormice were recorded over the next few years and it was concluded that the reintroduction had failed. However, in 2007, twelve years after the reintroduction, an adult and two juvenile dormice were recorded in a nest-box and remains of another dormouse were found in an owl box. These were the last records.
Over the next few years the woodland management within Treswell Wood was increased, and the coppice rotations restored. The woodland became a mosaic of habitats, with high forest, open glades, bramble scrub and hazel coppice. Ideal habitat for dormice.
Twenty years after the very first UK dormouse reintroduction, lessons had been learnt and protocols strengthened. Although still under the banner of ‘The Species Recovery Programme’, the management of the reintroduction project was taken over by PTES. The captive bred dormice used for release were far healthier, having undergone stringent health checks and mandatory 6-week periods of quarantine. Release sites were assessed far in advance to ensure the habitats were suitable for the species and a new soft-release protocol was put in place. It was therefore time to try again in Nottinghamshire.
In June 2013, thirty-four dormice were transported to the woodland from their quarantine sites at ZSL and Paignton Zoo. The dormice were paired up , with a male and female placed together in a soft-release cage. The dormice remained in the cages for a period of 14-days during which time they were given a daily supply of fresh food and water. After 14-days a small release hatch in the cage was opened, allowing the dormice to explore their new home. Releasing the dormice using a ‘soft-release’ protocol such as this enables them to adjust to their new environment over time, get used to the sounds and smells, and helps reduce stress levels.
The following year, forty dormice were reintroduced to the nearby Eaton Wood, with a further reintroduction in 2015 to Gamston Wood. All three woodlands are owned and managed by NWT and the woodlands are situated within 3-miles of each other.
Nest-boxes were installed in all three woodlands to enable the dormice populations to be monitored on a monthly basis. Early results were low, with only the occasional dispersing juvenile being found in the boxes within Treswell Wood, and very few adults. However, finding juveniles confirmed that the dormice were breeding, and therefore must be wild nesting rather than using the nest-boxes. This trend was also mirrored in Gamston and Eaton Woods, though dormouse numbers were slightly higher.
Over subsequent years the populations remained stable. The monitoring sessions continued to record dormice, in all life-stages albeit in low numbers. Then in 2017, dormouse numbers began to slowly increase in Gamston and Treswell. This was attributed to woodland enhancement works. Eaton numbers remained low.
2019 saw the highest counts yet, with a peak count of 44 dormice during August in Treswell Wood, 41 during October in Gamston Wood and 21 in August and October in Eaton Wood. Furthermore, in May 2019 we recorded a pregnant dormouse in a neighbouring woodland adjacent to Gamston, confirming not only that the dormice had begun to disperse into the wider landscape but also that they were breeding. The following month a litter of dormice was recorded with the same female and by the end of the season a total of 41 dormouse records had been gained from the private woodland. Success!