Time to wake up to Gravesend's desperate dormouse plight
Dormice in and around Gravesend face an uncertain future as disease and building developments destroy their favoured habitat.
The hazel or common dormouse is already an endangered species and prefer to live in rich, well-managed native woodlands.
But this type of environment is at risk in Gravesend and elsewhere in the UK and that is having a dramatic impact on the dormouse population.
Once widespread in England and Wales, the species is now found mainly in Kent, southern England and parts of Wales.
In fact, the dormouse population in the UK has halved in the last 100 years to around 45,000 today.
The Woodland Trust has warned that dormouse decline is a microcosm on how ancient woods and hedgerows are being lost with tree diseases and construction work threatening our wildlife’s habitat and food sources.
Since the 19th century, half of our native woodland has been lost or damaged by development, by replanting with non-native conifers and by intensive felling. Wider changes in land management have meant that 50% of our hedgerows have been lost in some areas.
Simon Bateman, who manages Joyden’s Wood on behalf of the Woodland Trust, said it was important to raise awareness of the plight of the dormouse and do what we can to help.
“Dutch elm disease and ash dieback have had a devastating effect on the natural habitat of our dormice,” said Simon.
“And in recent years building developments have seen large woodland areas become reduced to smaller pockets.
“This is also not good for the dormouse population.”
The Woodland Trust has released a list of nature sites that are under threat in the north Kent area.
Wooded areas have been lost or are under threat in and around Barming Wood, Darenth Wood and Swanley.
And due to a dangerous loophole in planning policy, the Trust is constantly adding to its database of ancient woods that are threatened by development.
“There are ways people can help but you shouldn’t try to pick up or handle a dormouse if you find one in the wild,” said Simon.
“Specialists need a dormouse licence before they can handle the species as they are so delicate.
“We’ve put dormouse boxes in the woods to help them nest or breed and brining back hedgerows to create wildlife corridors between woodland areas will be beneficial.”
Hedgerows are useful as dormice do not like to expose themselves to danger, preferring to clamber through higher connecting branches rather than risk crossing open ground.
They rarely travel more than 70 metres from their nest with one male dormouse and up to three females requiring a hectare of land to live.
So when a wood with breeding dormice reaches capacity, they need to move on and spread to other areas to populate.
Director of woodland creation at the Trust, John Tucker, said : “We are here to help anybody who would like to help by planting more trees, and for landowners who have dormice in their areas, we can offer extra funding.”
* To find out how you can help by planting trees, contact the Woodland Trust on 0845 293 5689 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.