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Dormice staging a comeback in Britain

The common dormouse, immortalised as the sleepy creature in Alice in Wonderland, is making a comeback.

Known by experts as the hazel dormouse, the tiny mammal is high on Britain's most endangered species list after becoming extinct across nearly all of northern, central and eastern England.

The dormouse, Muscardinus avellanarius, struggles to survive because its home - ancient woodlands of beech and hazel - has disappeared across much of the country. Unlike larger mammals, the dormouse is unable to travel through unforested areas.

Naturalists believe, however, the hazel dormouse may be recovering slowly in some counties after populations have been found in 60 woods in southern and south-western England.

Conservationists are now trying to restore the dormouse to Derbyshire - roughly 100 years after they were last seen in the county - by placing 34 captive-bred animals in an undisclosed location. The scheme - a joint initiative between the Mammals Trust, English Nature and the University of London's Royal Holloway College - has already led to dormice being successfully introduced in counties from Staffordshire to Bedfordshire.