Dormouse: European protected species (SIN005)

Issues

Dormice and farming

Common farming operations can have both positive and negative effects on dormice. Woodland and hedgerow management can sustain suitable habitat. Conversely, many farming activities could kill individual dormice or damage resting places. However, so long as there is no large scale loss of high quality habitat, small scale losses of dormice or their resting places is unlikely to compromise populations.

If an activity is likely to result in an offence (such as disturbing dormice), there are several options to proceed lawfully:

  • Avoid carrying it out.
  • Follow good practice guidance on methods or timing to reduce the chance of committing an offence.
  • Obtain a licence to allow otherwise unlawful activities.

A licence application would need to demonstrate that (1) the authorised activities are for a specified purpose (most commonly over-riding public interest or conservation), (2) there is no satisfactory alternative, and (3) the activities would not compromise the conservation status of the species. Some activities would require habitat creation to offset damage or destruction, in order to meet the third test. Licensing is generally more appropriate to land-use change or development than routine farming operations.

Dormice and agri-environment schemes

For agri-environment agreements (eg Environmental Stewardship), ensuring the optimal timing and scale of work will generally be the best approach, (as avoidance may not be compatible with the aims of the agreement).

As a general guide, hedge and woodland work is best carried out during November to February when dormice are likely to be hibernating below ground. This will be particularly important for options such as:

  • Maintenance of hedgerows of very high environmental value (HB12)
  • Maintenance and restoration of woodland (HC7, HC8)
  • Maintenance and restoration of successional areas and scrub (HC15, HC16)

Where the scrub is close to ancient woodland it may be being used by dormice, in which case scrub management to restore grassland (capital items SA, SB, SC and SS) will also need to be timed accordingly.

Entry Level Stewardship and Higher Level Stewardship can support dormouse conservation by maintaining suitable habitats or providing new ones. Prescriptions involving tree or hedge planting can use species listed below (provided this is consistent with other local considerations).

Hazel (the principal source of food for fattening up prior to hibernation), honeysuckle (the finely shredded bark is the preferred nesting material), oak, bramble, sycamore, ash, wayfaring tree, yew, hornbeam, broom, sallow, birch, sweet chestnut, blackthorn, hawthorn.

To produce the most suitable hedges for dormice, management should aim to produce thick bushy hedges that are 3 to 4 metres high. These are likely to only need cutting every third year or less and ideally one third of hedgerows should be left 7 to 10 years between cutting as many shrubs do not fruit freely for several years after cutting.

If you have any concerns about your agri-environment agreement and its impact on dormice please contact your local Natural England adviser.

In woodland that is deficient in natural tree holes, nest boxes can provide a suitable alternative. These could be erected at a density of 10-30 per hectare, though a higher density (36 per hectare) is recommended for dormouse population monitoring.

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