Popularised by CS Lewis’ slumberous character in Alice in Wonderland, the dormouse is an endearing creature often featured in affectionate pictures and photos. However, it is unlikely that many of us will have seen one of these diminutive mammals in real life as the dormice is now considered endangered, and sadly is already extinct in 20 English counties. Dormice thrive in thick bushy growth, whether in woods, hedges, or scrub but their habitats have been shrinking, becoming fragmented or poorly managed. This has led to dormice becoming isolated in unconnected areas of woodland. Studies have shown that gaps larger than just 10-15cm can force the animals to travel on the floor, and eat less food, which makes them vulnerable and exposed to predators.

Fortunately, here in Hampshire efforts are underway to offer a lifeline to the dormice colonies that remain here. It may be surprising to learn that the species has recently been spotted in busy, noisy locations along the A303 and M3. This is because dormice can thrive in a variety of different plants and trees, many of which can be commonly found in verges, that can also provide bramble for blackberries and honeysuckle for climbing. Oak and sycamore are attractive as they support large quantities of insects, whilst sweet chestnut and hazel provide nuts. Corridors of roadside vegetation act as an excellent home for wildlife, enabling dormice and other species to travel safely to different areas.

Trees are perfect habitats for dormice, providing food and shelter. Trees are perfect habitats for dormice, providing food and shelter. (Image: Getty)

Work is now taking place through Hampshire County Council’s Forest Partnership to plant new trees, hedges, and small woodlands alongside many of our rural roads. Linking with landowners and farmers, the ‘Shoots Along the Routes’ initiative is planting strategically in 2km wide zones, within and around crops and animal pastures, and through villages and towns. The scheme will also add more trees to hedges which provide additional food sources, insect populations, shelter, and perching spots for birds. In total, we are expecting to create around 630kms of green corridors alongside highways acting as ‘stepping stones’ for wildlife. This is good news for many struggling species like the dormouse, but also helps to reduce pollution, alleviate flooding, and even filter run-off and sediment from vehicles that would otherwise be flushed into waterways.

Funding is available from the Hampshire Forest Partnership to boost tree planting across the county, including to create roadside corridors, and for communities to help orchards and mini-forests to take root. Apply now in time to start planting between November and March. Find out more at www.hants.gov.uk/hampshireforestpartnership

About the author

Emily Roberts coordinates the Hampshire Forest Partnership as part of Hampshire County Council’s Countryside Service. The service looks after many of Hampshire’s major country parks and National Nature Reserves, as well as some heritage monuments, local recreational spaces, and large areas of common land. It also manages Hampshire’s 3,000 miles of public rights of way.