Have you ever seen a dormouse? Very likely, not. These tiny little mice sleep for 7 months of the year, and when awake, they are nocturnal and hide away in logs, tree trunks and under beds of leaves, to keep warm. Tiny (they weigh the same as 2 x £1 coins – or almost twice just before hibernation), they have long tails, ginger fur and big ‘coal-like’ eyes’. Most dormice are found in Southern England, although you’ll find a few further north. Dormice are rodents but they are not really mice: and they are larger than field mice or harvest mice, with a fluffy tail. Their name comes from the Latin ‘dormeus’, which means ‘sleepy one!’
The sad news is that we have lost almost half our dormice (one of only three hibernating mammals: along with hedgehogs and bats). And why? Although they have natural predators (badgers, owls and cats), the main reasons for their endangerment are lack of hedgerows and modern farming methods (chemicals, machines etc) which have harmed their habitats and stolen their food. Around half of all dormice today die in hibernation, due to lack of food to get them through winter.
How to Help Dormice
- If you’re a farmer, go organic and use mowing methods to protect hedgerows. See how to save England’s hedgerows for lots of tips. If mowing a field, start from the inside out so that wildlife has chance to escape to neighbouring fields. Leave some areas of long grass, for hiding and breeding.
- Hedgelink is a charity working to save our hedgerows. Also download Hedging, a practical handbook from The Conservation Volunteers that can teach you how to plant new hedges and restore neglected ones. Sign up as a volunteer.
- You have to be careful with wildlife homes (for instance, bee houses are not usually a good idea as bees get covered in mites and can die). But if you have farmland, Ark Wildlife makes quality dormouse houses to face the tree trunk, with two wooden bars allowing safe access from the trunk: a dormouse’s preferred route. The top opens for easy inspection, without disturbance.
- Dormice are endangered so protected by law (harm to a dormouse or its habitat can result in a £5000 fine and 6-month prison sentence). You can report concerns to Animal Crime Unit, National Wildlife Crime Unit or Crimestoppers (anonymous).
Grow Hazelnut Trees
See make your garden safe for pets, to know plants (and other items like cocoa mulch, pine mulch and fresh compost) to avoid near pets. And although dormice like oak & hawthorn tees, many trees are toxic to horses, including oak and yew. Don’t ‘feed hazelnuts’ to dormice, as they only eat them when they are still green on the tree, and soft enough to digest.
- Although dormice eat caterpillars (often found in hazelnut trees), fruits and flowers, the dormouse’s favourite meal is hazelnuts which takes 20 minutes to open (using a unique ‘nibble method’ that leaves a round hole in the shell with teeth marks). Hazelnuts are full of fat, protein and calcium to get Mr Dormouse through his long winter sleep. You can buy nice hazel trees from Tree 2 My Door (from single trees to groves for 20 trees)
- Red squirrels also love hazelnut trees (lack of hazelnut & pine trees is what has caused the red squirrel’s decline: grey squirrels are not to blame). Did you know squirrels weigh hazelnuts, to size if it’s worth cracking the nut? Bees like hazelnut trees, but find it difficult to get the pollen.
Delightful Books about Dormice
- Dormouse Dreams is the story of a little dormouse who dreams and snores his way from winter to spring, going on adventures with his dormouse friend. Whimsical illustrations feature other animals entertaining themselves with dart games, cross-country skiing and flying aeroplanes – while Dormouse happily hibernates! Readers then follow the friend’s journey to Dormouse’s house, where she wakes him up for some real life pleasures, including daydreaming.
- Dormouse and His Seven Beds is a classic children’s tale. The animals in Green Forest keep waking up, to the surprise of Little Dormouse sleeping in their houses: in Rabbit’s carrot box, in Robin’s tie drawer and even on Deer’s antlers. So they tell him to stop. But then they find out that the reason is because he doesn’t like to sleep alone – so he trundles off into the forest, to try to sleep in the house of the dangerous wolf. Realising what has happened, the animals go on a mission to find him: from now on, he will have seven beds in seven houses, to sleep in – one for every day of the week!
I assure you that I sleep anywhere. And always like a dormouse. Leo Tolstoy