The hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) is a nocturnal animal that lives mainly in deciduous woodland and scrub. They will rarely descend to ground except to hibernate and are reluctant to cross open spaces. They feed on a variety of arboreal foods including berries, nuts, nectar, pollen, certain invertebrates and some young leaves and buds. Important food species include hazel, oak, bramble and honeysuckle.
Dormice have been found in small woods down to 2 ha where other suitable habitat is available. Certain factors affecting the probability of dormice will indicate their likely presence, however, in areas of woody habitat (even apparently unsuitable habitat including plantations, hedgerow and scrub) the presence of dormice should be assumed and surveys should be undertaken to determine their presence or likely absence. As dormice are secretive animals, finding indirect evidence of dormice is the most common survey technique. Evidence may include:
Signature gnawed hazelnuts - the most effective method.
Hair tubes to capture distinctive hair follicles of dormice.
Nests (typically woven honeysuckle bark).
Skeletons, particularly skulls.
If longer monitoring is required then additional methods should be considered including nest boxes, nest tubes, and potentially trapping.
MITIGATION & LICENSING
Where land-use change is proposed and dormice are known to be present, it is highly unlikely that mitigation will be acceptable with little or no survey effort. Once sufficient survey effort has been established, mitigation may be an option. The level of mitigation will be dependant upon the the size of the impact and the importance of the population to be affected. It is very likely that some sort of compensation will also be required to offset damage caused by development. Natural England or other relevant SNCOs can issue licences where there is no satisfactory alternative.
LAW & LEGISLATION
Dormice receive full protection in Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and countryside Act (as amended) 1981 making it an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take a dormouse or to intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy of obstruct any place used as a place of shelter, or to disturb a dormouse while it is using such a structure. The dormouse is also afforded protection under Schedule 2 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations.