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Page last updated at 13:16 GMT, Friday, 23 October 2009 14:16 UK
The great dormice debate

By Laura Joint
BBC Devon

Chris Packham
Chris Packham agrees dormice are "ultra-cute"

Who would have thought a cuddly little creature like the dormouse could stir up such a debate?

At a time when conservation groups - including the Devon Wildlife Trust - are investing effort and money into assessing dormouse numbers and providing the perfect habitat for them - BBC Autumnwatch presenter Chris Packham has suggested they are not deserving of all the attention.

So we thought we'd present the case for and against spending money on safeguarding the future of the dormouse, which is a rare and protected species in the UK - and you can have your say in the messageboard at the bottom of the page.

Dormice - the case for:

The Devon Wildlife Trust has selected the dormouse for particular care and attention because it is one of the UK's Biodiversity Action Plan species.

A dormouse
Dormice are cute and cuddly - and endangered

Dormice are endangered nationally and the trust hopes its efforts will ensure the future of the dormouse in the county - which is known as a stronghold for the creatures.

The trust manages some of its nature reserves with dormice in mind, by providing nest boxes and managing woodland habitat so that it benefits them. This work also creates good habitat for a whole range of other species.

In addition, dormice like good quality woodland and hedgerows so if they're doing well, it's a sign that the habitat is up to scratch.

This autumn, the trust's main campaign is the Great Nut Hunt, where it has asked the public to look out for signs of dormice.

The results of the hunt will provide the trust with important information about their distribution which will help conservation efforts.

Dormice - the case against:

Chris Packham told BBC Devon: "Dormice are the mammalian equivalent of Page 3. I accept they are ultra-cute, but I question why our flagship species are decided by the diameter of their whiskers and the size of their eyes.

"The reason I pick on the poor dormouse is that it is incredibly inaccessible to the vast population of people.

"They are strictly nocturnal and they sleep for five months of the year. Throughout the course of my life, I have never once happened upon a dormouse. Our animal heroes should be those which people can engage with, which people can't with dormice or otters.

"I'm not against them in themselves - I don't wish them any harm. But I want people to look at contemporary conservation, and we need to optimise our energies and cash as best we can.

"I just think there is a place for important species which don't look cute, and many useful creatures we refer to as pests."

You can take part in the dormouse debate by using the messageboard below.

I think these debates are of value because they raise the profile of the debate over conservation, habitat management and money. The great danger is that through received wisdom we think the experts always know what they are talking about - I have seen doormice in a number of places and habitats the experts would have you believe they will not survive, similalry with water voles. However the value of identifying a "signature" species is that all the other species that share the same habitat benefit. The RSPBs Avocet is a classic example, almost vanished from our shores the money invested in suitable habitat has not only hugely increased the avocet population but also all the other birds that rely on the same habitat. We could have said why bother with the avocet but what a loss that would be. To engage the public you need heroes or symbols, the doormouse is the current conservation pinup and long live the habitat this creature relies on.
Harvey Davies, Netherbury (14 November 2009)

The best way to preserve wildlife is to leave wild areas wild with as little intrusion as possible. Treat your environment with respect. Let us spend money on keeping wild areas WILD, no tagging, no weighing, no handling. Just watching... and if creatures are elusive, let them be so. I am in favour of spending money on wild habitats for the dormouse, but not for doing studies on this and other creatures. Care for the habitat, but leave creatures to being wild.
Suzanne, Devon, 10 November 2009

I agree to stop funding for conserving Panda's because the cost is so extautionate, which could be spent wisely saving other endanagered species. The doormouse however Im not so sure about? Surely it doesnt cost millions each year to protect Dormice?! Tho I know there are ALOT of animals which are endangered. You need only go on the RSPB webpage and see how many birds have a red status. Its depressing. Good on you packam for bringing this to our attention.
Laura, Nottingham , 7 November 2009

Animals are not 'heroes' or film stars and more people than Chris might think, do interact with dormice especially when they are feeding in their gardens like they do here. (They are not strictly nocturnal!) Many animals are 'cute' but not to all people who may class dormice as just mice and shudder. An important facet of current interest in this species is that the accepted information is under scrutiny ~ there's still an awful lot to discover about them and why they survive, maybe even prosper in some areas but not in others.
Jen, Cornwall, 26 October 2009

We need to engage people with wildlife by any means, if people find dormice cute and cuddly great, it may be a way in to a life of wildlife volunteering. I find dormice enchanting but it doesn't make me a second class naturalist I also value less charismatic species. Perhaps Mr Packham should be reminded that what is good for dormice is also good for bats! I also wonder why, if it is true that people only care about animals they can actually see, so many, myself included, give up their time to do otter surveys when it is almost certain they will never come across an otter.
Gill, Bristol, 26 October 2009

In a world where funding can dictate conservation priorities what better way to get more bang for your buck than focussing on dormice and hedgerows. Rehabilitating our hedgerows so that dormice can live in them would help at least 125 other Biodiversity Action Plan species, and a host of others not currently protected.
Jim, Surrey, 26 October 2009

There can be, and is, no "Great Dormice debate"! We are witnessing the consequences of evolution! Do none of you understand the consequences of Darwinian theory? It seems Chris Packham might!
Liz, Exmouth, 26 October 2009

I understand Chris's reservations but in conserving the 'cute' hazel dormouse by managing the habitat appropriately and connecting isolated pockets of woodland will without doubt also help the less endearing creatures and plants of Britain too. The dormouse is the charismatic spokesperson of our threatened habitats. The People's Trust for Endangered Species is running the Golden Great Nut Hunt this autumn and winter to establish whether in fact the dormouse is as endangered as we think. Lets hope it isn't and we can then spend conservation funds elsewhere! If anybody does want a chance to see a dormouse then book to come on a PTES Wildlife Encounter.
Hannah, London, 26 October 2009

Whilst I usually agree with Chris Packham, on this occasion I think he's got it wrong or just trying to be controversial?! Isn't it irrelevant if the dormouse is endearing or not...if it is a barometer of the health of our native woodland which is so precious we have a duty to preserve it. Whether most of us see one or not in our lifetime is surely neither here nor there. Stretching Chris's point, does it mean that we shouldn't waste conservation money on finding out why birds such as the cuckoo are in decline?
Rachel, Putney Heath, 25 October 2009

So Chris Packham thinks Panda and Dormice dont deserve the time and effort just because a lot of people wont see them. Well we might as well let Polar bears die off, let the rain forest go to the loggers and miners and so on.
Cliff, Devon, 25 October 2009

I firmly believe that efforts must be made to conserve the dormouse. It is important to do so not so much that the dormouse is a 'pretty little mammal' but that it is a native species and an important part of Britain's ecosystem. However, equal weight needs to be given to preserve other threatened native species. On the subject of nature conservation, society in general tends to only show concern to the more 'glamorous' and 'cute' animals such as whales, tigers and pandas. We need to appreciate that the "less attactive" animals - land and aquatic invertebrates are most important to conserve. They form the very basis of ecosystems. Interest towards nature conservation should not just be based on emotions. Certain wildlife I am not so concerned about, such as the grey squirrel which is an alien species and as a result has caused ecological damage since its introduction to the UK. On a final note, as a point of interest, the dormouse is not actually a mouse, but is related to squirrels.
David, Dawlish, 24 October 2009

I would like to know which species on this planet Chris Patten thinks are worthy enough to conserve. He certainly dosent believe the panda is. It's ridiculous to say that we should only conserve the animals that are accessible to the vast population. Does that mean we shouldnt conserve the endangered creatures that live in the rain forests and oceans, habitats that I and the majority of people will never have access to except through the TV programmes made by the likes of David Attenborough. Thinking people are concerned about the destruction of this planet and its inhabitants cuddly or otherwise. Chris Patten, don't pour scorn on people who are making the effort to redress the balance.
Rosie, Devon, 24 October 2009

What total tosh. If we take Mr. Packham's logic then we should also be seeking to see the end of magnificent creatures like wild cats and pine martens. I for one have no wish to personally engage with any of our feral preators in it's own habitat. Perhaps he mispoke himself and intended to mean that we should really only care about creatures and habitat of commercial value. That would stack well with the ideals of a society which seems to think moving a load of old rock from Norway to the South West (a mere £500,000) grant is good value. I'd rather have seen that money spent on otters, doormice and let's not forget poor old voley. I've only ever managed to watch a photograph voles but still live in hope of adding doormice an otters to my list.
Aragorn, 24 October 2009

I do not agree that you can only 'engage' with something that you have personally seen firsthand. Considerable numbers of people gain great pleasure by finding about about others efforts to safeguard rare species such as dormice. If communicated well, then there are no limits on who can feel involved in the conservation process.
Dr Simone Bullion, Suffolk, 23 October 2009

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