Hope for Britain's endangered dormice

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The survival prospects of the dormouse, endangered by the loss of its natural habitat, have been boosted by the discovery of two of the mammals 150 miles north of what was thought to be the limit of its normal range.

The survival prospects of the dormouse, endangered by the loss of its natural habitat, have been boosted by the discovery of two of the mammals 150 miles north of what was thought to be the limit of its normal range.

Wildlife campaigners hope the discovery will prove to be the "turning point" in the fortunes of the dormouse, a creature that has suffered a dramatic decline in numbers in recent years.

The dormice, one male and one female, were found in an ancient woodland near Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire, an area where they were believed to be locally extinct. Local wildlife experts have moved to protect the creatures in the hope that they will produce two litters a year and slowly repopulate the region.

"We were fairly certain that the dormouse was extinct in Staffordshire so this is very welcome and exciting," said Martin Adams of Staffordshire Wildlife Trust. "We're now intensifying our search for other dormice though they are extremely shy and secretive."

The dormouse, distinguished by its light tawny fur and yellowish white throat, was generally thought to have died out across the north of England and is now usually spotted only in Wales and the South. Its population is just 10,000. It is rarely spotted and is generally identified by a tell-tale trail of nibbled hazelnuts.

The main cause of its decline is the loss and fragmentation of its woodland habitat and changes in woodland management practices, for dormice are reluctant to cross open country if a wood becomes fragmented. In such cases it can easily become isolated from breeding partners.

The Wildlife Trust has sought to redress the problem by replenishing woodlands and planting hedgerows of bramble, oak and honeysuckle, which the mammals nest in and use to travel from wood to wood.

In a two-year project funded by English Nature, 6,000 plastic tubes are being placed in hedgerows to find the most important habitats for the creature.

Wildlife experts believe the dormouse is worth saving, not only for its own sake but also because it provides vital clues about the condition of the countryside. Mr Adams said: "It really comes down to the big picture. If we can't manage to create the right conditions for a creature that has been living here for hundreds of years then that is a good indicator that something is seriously wrong."

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