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New homes may save dormice

Wardens at a conservation area in London's commuter belt have joined the fight to save one of Britain's threatened species - the dormouse.

The wardens are setting up 60 boxes for dormice in hazel trees on Ashstead Common, Surrey, which is administered by the Corporation of London. Dormice are particularly partial to hazel nuts and it is hoped they will breed in the boxes.

Vikki Forbes, a community woodland officer, said the boxes would enable naturalists to spot whether dormice had taken residence in the trees. Around 4in from nose to tail, and the weight of two pounds 1 coins, the dormouse is nocturnal and arboreal, making it difficult to detect during daylight.

The creature is in danger of extinction, says the conservation group, English Nature. At least 45 per cent of its habitat, broad-leaved woodland, has disappeared since the Second World War. Now it is mainly concentrated in southern England, particularly in Devon and Dorset.

The 50 acres of Ashtead Common is designated a site of special scientific interest. It is prized by naturalists for the number and diversity of its bird species, and for its woodland pasture.

Birds such as nightingales are plentiful. It is also home to the Purple Emperor, the largest British butterfly.

The woodland area includes some 1,500 pollarded trees. Pollarding is the technique of cutting a tree back to prolong its life, leaving about two meters of trunk. Many trees on the Common are more than 300 years old.

The common is run as a community woodland project. About 25 of its wardens are local volunteers who work on the common for one or two days a week.

The Corporation has just published a draft of its management plan for the common and it would like feedback from members of the public. The consultation period runs from 10 August to 3 October.

The plan is available in Epsom, Leatherhead and Ashtead libraries and from the Corporation of London.

(Photograph omitted)