Identification

The dormouse can be easily recognised by its small size, bright golden-brown colour, large eyes and bushy tail. It is nocturnal and unlikely to be seen casually during the day.

Evidence of the presence of dormice can be found by searching for hazelnuts that have a distinctive smooth round opening. Dormouse tooth marks will be around the inside edge of the hole, smoothing it out, with a few on the shiny brown nut surface.

Size

Body length varies between 6-9cm (2-3 1/2in). The tail can reach 8cm (3in).

Distribution

The dormouse is restricted largely to Wales and Southern England, although there are a few records in the Midlands and further north. It is absent from Scotland.

Status

Its specialised habitat and feeding requirements, together with an unwillingness to cross open countryside make the dormouse vulnerable to local extinction when woods are isolated or managed in an unsuitable way.
The dormouse is fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the European Habitats Directive.

Habitat preference

Dormice live in deciduous woodlands, especially those with hazel or that are coppiced. They spend most of their time in the tree canopy so it is important that they should be able to travel from tree to tree without having to cross the ground.

Where to find them in the garden

If you live very close to likely dormouse-habitat you can encourage them in your garden by making sure you have a variety of plant structures – trees, shrubs with lots of lateral branches, hedging cut in rotation so that there are always some fruits and berries to be found. You could also try putting up a dormouse nest box.

During the day it occupies a nest, woven out of grass stems and honeysuckle bark. It will also use old birds’ nests or cavities in trees and is readily attracted to nest boxes. One or two litters are raised per year.

Role in the garden

Although dormice are far more likely to be found in woodlands or hedgerows, they may be found in some gardens, for example in Devon, where they are close to the countryside.
The dormouse feeds on flowers, fruit and insects and requires a sequence of arboreal foods through the year, especially hazel, oak, honeysuckle, bramble and sycamore.