Looking after dormice

Dormouse being held in a hand

Hazel dormice are no bigger than an avocado stone, and with their golden-brown fur and large black eyes it’s easy to see why they’re one of the UK’s most appealing small mammals.

However many people will have never seen a dormouse in the flesh, as they’re nocturnal and spend much of the spring and summer up high among tree branches or in hedgerows.

This is also where they build their nests during the breeding season using grass, leaves and shredded honeysuckle bark. The female dormouse will have on average four young in a litter, typically in July or August. The young are weaned after about a month, but will often stay with their mother as juveniles.

During the winter dormice leave the tree canopy to hibernate on the ground, often under logs and piles of leaves, in grass tussocks or at the base of trees. Dormice will also sleep through cold and wet weather whatever the time of year, so they actually spend a large proportion of their time unconscious. In fact their name comes from the French word ‘dormir’, which means ‘to sleep’.

When they are awake, dormice spend much of their time in search or buds, hazelnuts, berries and insects to eat. Hazelnuts provide a great source of fat for dormice; so hazel trees are an ideal habitat.

" Hazel woods are the dormice’s ideal habitat. By coppicing trees and having cattle in to graze, we can create the perfect habitat for these mammals."
- James Robbins, Ranger at Cotehele

A safe space for Dormice

Loss of woodlands and competition for food mean that hazel dormice are in trouble, with numbers tumbling in the last century. But our rangers are working hard to restore the woodland habitats they need.

Ranger James Robbins regularly surveys the woods at Cotehele, Cornwall, for the rare creatures. He said: 'Nationally, Britain’s dormice are struggling – but in one undisturbed wooded valley at Cotehele numbers are booming.

'Our hazel woods are the dormice’s ideal habitat. We’ve recently coppiced hazel trees in the woods and grazing by highland cattle has helped create the perfect habitat for these mammals.'

Sophie Parker, area ranger at Leith Hill, got the opportunity to hold one of these special animals while checking the boxes under the supervision of a licensed handler from the Surrey Dormouse Group.

Dormouse in a nesting box

Hunting nibbled nuts at Wenlock Edge, Shropshire 

Dormice love eating hazelnuts. By hunting for the nibbled shells, rangers and volunteers were able to estimate the number of dormice in the woods at Wenlock Edge.

Dormouse at Holmwood Common

Snoring dormouse at Holmwood Common, Surrey 

There are more holly trees than hazel at Holmwood Common. But ranger Sophie Parker still managed to find a female dormouse - snoring in her hand.

Holnicote Ranger holding a sleeping dormouse

Hedgerows for dormice on the Holnicote Estate, Somerset 

Rangers in Exmoor are surveying hedgerows for dormice. The lottery-funded project will help them manage the hedgerows better for the rare mammals.

A dormouse on the Stourhead estate in Wiltshire

Building nest boxes at Stourhead, Wiltshire 

Dormice got a boost after rangers at Stourhead's famous gardens built almost 170 nest boxes for the rare creatures.