Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dormouse discovery at Alton Water is good news

Golden brown with thick furry tails, these tiny creatures are known to be living in woods nearby, but this is the first time their presence has been recorded at the reservoir itself.
Last summer distinctive nibble marks on a hazelnut found at Alton Water suggested that endangered dormice had ventured into the Anglian Water nature reserve. Now researchers are proud to confirm these endangered dormice have officially moved in!
Together with the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Alton Water volunteers put up monitoring nest tubes after the first signs were found. They later found dormice in three of them, with nests in a further six.
To the surprise of researchers, these tree dwelling mammals even appear to have crossed the busy A137 to reach scrub and woodland habitats around the reservoir.
Over the last century our changing habits have led to the destruction and neglect of the woodlands which these beautiful creatures used to call home.
Dormice are tree-dwelling mammals which are generally reluctant to cross open spaces so as woodlands have become more fragmented their population has suffered. This has caused a drastic decline in the dormouse population to the point where they are now 
so rare they are considered endangered.
Simone Bullion, senior conservation advisor at the Suffolk Wildlife Trust said: “This is a very exciting discovery and one that should provide considerable new habitat opportunities for dormice in this part of Suffolk.
“Future monitoring work will help secure the long term future of this very scarce species.”
The initial survey was deemed such a success that enthusiastic Alton Water volunteers are now planning to build and put up more than 50 permanent nest boxes as part of a 10-year national monitoring scheme administered by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species.
This scheme will allow staff at the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Anglian Water to see how far dormice have ventured into the site and how their population fares in future years.
Elusive, beautiful rodents with big black eyes, dormice have their name from the Latin dormire which means sleepy. This is no understatement; they can spend up to three quarters of their lives asleep! Dormice hibernate from October to March, spending their days in silent slumber.
So, unlike Alice in Wonderland who was lucky enough to have tea with a dormouse at the Mad Hatter’s Tea party, you are unlikely to ever see these attractive creatures in the wild.
But just because you might not see them, doesn’t mean their arrival at Alton isn’t great news.
Dormice are sometimes known as a ‘flagship’ species, which means that if woodlands near you have dormice then the habitat is also a place where many other creatures will thrive. This is promising news for many of the other animals Anglian Water aims to protect and help with its Biodiversity Action Plan
Promoting biodiversity (the variety of life on Earth) is a priority at Anglian Water and the company spends over £500,000 a year on improving its sites for wildlife. 
This latest success is further encouragement that the work being done is creating results.
At other Anglian Water reservoirs visitors may now be lucky enough to see osprey, barn owls and other rare creatures.
Simon Waters, Head Warden at Alton Water said: “It is fantastic news that we have discovered dormice here at Alton Water, particularly given all the hard work our staff and volunteers have put in recently to make this part of the site more inviting to plants and animals.
“Now we know they are here we will be able to manage the site accordingly and make sure Alton Water continues to be an inviting habitat for this nocturnal mammal.
“This may include introducing more hazel and honeysuckle, two of the plants Dormice are particularly fond of when creating their nests.”

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