Page last updated at 13:51 GMT, Tuesday, 31 March 2009 14:51 UK

Survey looks for 'lost' dormouse

Hazel dormouse eating a nut
Dormice and their habitats are protected by law

An appeal has been launched to find out whether a rare mammal still exists in Leicestershire and Rutland.

The city and county councils, along with wildlife trusts, have appealed for volunteers to watch out for signs the hazel dormouse lives in the area.

The animal, which weighs about the same as two £1 coins, has not been seen since the 1970s in Leicestershire.

The dormouse is seen as a good indicator of the wider health of surrounding hedgerows and fields.

Picture appeal

Now conservationists are trying to detect its presence using dormouse boxes, nest tubes and looking for evidence over the distinctive way it gnaws hazel nuts.

Barry Ingram, of the Dormouse Project, said: ''We need villagers, farmers, landowners, nature lovers, walkers, and indeed anyone who enjoys the great outdoors to report or relate any experiences of dormice they may have had past and present.

"Has your cat brought one in? If you think it has, email us a photo."

The dormice are mouse-sized animals with a coat of golden or light sandy brown fur that extends on to its tail.

This is unlike other mice, which have almost naked tails.

Although there are no precise population numbers, it is believed they have been in decline for decades.

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