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Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 03:03 GMT 04:03 UK
Dormice take to the tube
Dormouse BBC Wild
The animals sleep for eight months of the year
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

One of the United Kingdom's sleepiest mammals, the dormouse, is being given an unusual helping hand.

Conservationists are installing rectangular plastic tubes in more than 120 kilometres of hedgerows in England and Wales to monitor the animals.

The tubes provide ideal places for the dormice to nest, and to the experts' jubilation, at least 10% of the tubes installed so far show signs of dormouse occupation.

The tubes are being placed in hedges in Kent, Sussex, Somerset, Devon and Carmarthenshire.

Migration routes

The project, which will last two years, is being funded by English Nature, the People's Trust for Endangered Species, and a commercial backer, Center Parcs.

It is intended to discover which are the most important types of hedgerow for dormice. The results of the project will be used to make recommendations to farmers and landowners on the most dormouse-friendly way of managing their hedgerows.

Dormouse English Nature
The project will result in better land management
Dormice seem to prefer large hedges which have not been flailed and which have plenty of species like bramble, hazel, oak and honeysuckle. They are not keen on flailed hedges, although radio-tracking has found young animals using them to move to different woodlands.

Hedgerows are important to dormice both as migration routes and as sources of food. The animals sleep for eight months of the year, and are seldom seen - their fondness for climbing in trees and bushes makes them even harder to spot.

Habitat loss

They are orange-brown in colour, weigh about as much as three pound coins and measure about 7 cm, with tails almost the same length. There are thought to be about 10,000 dormice in southern England, the one part of the country - with Wales - where they survive despite continuing habitat loss.

Last year, the Wildlife Trusts, the national liaison body for the 46 county trusts in the UK, launched a dormouse protection project designed to improve understanding of the species and to provide suitable habitats.

It involves installing nesting boxes, linking dormice habitats, and managing woodlands and hedgerows through coppicing.

This leaves long intervals between successive fellings of trees, a process which allows light and air to penetrate through the canopy to the ground. That encourages the growth of spring flowers and the summer variety of plants the dormice need in order to double their body weight before hibernation.

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14 Oct 99 | Sci/Tech
Rescue plan for sleepy dormouse
15 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Brussels gives hedges the chop
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