Hazel dormouse

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What is the Hazel dormouse?

The hazel or common dormouse is one of our rarest mammals. With a body length of just 6-9cm and a bushy prehensile tail of similar length, dormice have soft golden-brown fur and big black eyes. They build breeding nests out of stripped honeysuckle bark and moss, and hibernate during the winter months, either on the ground (under logs, leaves, in grass tussocks and at the base of trees) or just beneath the ground where the temperature is more constant.


Why is the Hazel dormouse important to the Surrey Hills?

The hazel dormouse is a European Protected Species and a UK Priority Species for conservation. It used to be widespread in Britain but has suffered a population decline of 51% since 2000. The dormouse is now confined mostly to southern England and Wales and, even where dormice remain, their distribution is patchy.  Inappropriate or lack of long-term woodland and hedgerow management and fragmentation of woodlands and hedges are thought to be major reasons for this decline.

What habitat does the Hazel dormouse like?


Hedgerows are important both as landscape features and as wildlife habitat across lowland Britain, especially when associated with features such as grassy field margins. Classic hedges are linear, shrubby, mostly continuous features though hedges which have developed into lines of trees retain landscape value and some wildlife value. Over 600 plant species, 1,500 insects, 65 birds and 20 mammals have been recorded at some time living or feeding in hedges and they are especially important for butterflies and moths, farmland birds, bats and dormice. They also play a crucial role in landscape connectivity, linking up other areas of habitat so that wildlife can move more freely across the farmed landscape.

They live in deciduous woodland, hedgerows and dense scrub and are arboreal, spending most of the time up in the branches and rarely coming down to the ground.

How to support the Hazel dormouse

Good hedgerow management for this species will create/result in a well-connected network of big and diverse native hedges linking deciduous woodlands across the landscape.  There will be hedgerow trees and associated habitats such as field margins, banks and ditches. This will benefit a wide range of other species including birds such as yellowhammer and whitethroat, bats such as the barbastelle, butterflies, moths and many other insects.

Opportunities to create/improve/extend suitable habitat for this species include:
  • Restoring overgrown/neglected hedgerows by hedge-laying or coppicing and planting up gaps
  • Extending the hedge management cycle to allow hedges to grow taller and wider, and hedgerow fruits and berries to ripen
  • Planting new hedgerows especially on sites where creation would extend or link existing lengths of hedgerow or woodland
  • Restoring and maintaining hazel coppice rotations in woodland


Creating and managing areas for the Hazel dormouse will help deliver the following benefits to communities:
  • Clean water
  • Clean air
  • Protection from and mitigation of environmental hazards
  • Mitigation of and adaptation to climate change
  • Thriving plants and wildlife
  • Beauty, heritage and engagement

Current conservation projects

This summer the Surrey Hills Society took part in the National Dormouse Footprint Tunnel Survey, run by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES).  Six volunteers were involved in the 3-month survey that took place in partnership with a local farmer based in the Surrey Hills. 20 tunnels were placed in a native hedgerow and checked fortnightly for dormice prints, to identify dormouse presence. Unfortunately, at the end of the survey, no dormouse presence was detected, however, our results still provide incredibly important data to feed into the national survey and will contribute to PTES’s records. The Society hopes to repeat the survey next year at new locations and will be looking for volunteers to help with this.

These illustrations are by an artist taking part in a programme delivered by Watts Gallery Trust and funded by the Michael Varah Memorial Fund. This series of 30 Surrey Hills Indicator Species were commissioned by Surrey Hills Society and funded by Surrey Hills Trust Fund as part of the Making Space for Nature Exhibition.