From near extinction to population boom

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RARE dormice have been found in record numbers in woodland near Wragby.

The Forestry Commission can reveal that more than 70 dormice, including adults, juveniles and babies, were found by experts during three checks on nest boxes carried out in Chambers Farm Wood during the autumn.

After becoming extinct in Lincolnshire, dormice were re-introduced here nine years ago in a pioneering project by the Forestry Commission, Mammals Trust UK, Natural England, Royal Holloway and the University of London.

Anne Goodall, of Lincoln-based environmental consultants ESL, who is working with the Forestry Commission on the project, said: “The record figure only covers the dormice we found in boxes, but we know that the population is far greater and wild nests have also been spotted and half-eaten hazelnuts found in other areas, clearly chewed by dormice.

“This adds up to a tremendous year for the species. Everyone connected with this project is over-joyed by the progress being made.”

One of the reasons behind the population boom could be a bumper year for hazelnuts and fruits on which the dormice feed.

Babies were still being found in boxes in October – very late in the season for newborns and perhaps suggesting that some families may have had a second litter.

Adrienne Bennett, Forestry Commission ecologist, said: “The next big milestone is to see dormice spreading into other woods.

“We’ve been careful not to get too far ahead of ourselves given that mother nature can be unpredictable.

“But the signs are good that dormice will soon be re-colonising more former haunts in the Bardney Limewoods.”

Chambers’ dormice colony stems from 32 captive bred adults released in 2003.

Now the population is spreading north and south from its release point and more nest boxes in addition to the current 130 are being erected across a wider area (each adult male needs a minimum one hectare territory, forcing them to spread).

Plastic tubes - which provide temporary over-night havens for exploring dormice – are also being erected in hedgerows and for the first time next year boxes will be put up in other woods near to Chambers.

Chambers Farm Wood is one of Lincolnshire’s most important wildlife havens thanks to ongoing habitat improvements, including ride widening, carried out by the Forestry Commission and local conservationists.