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Dormice – Not Mice At All! ~ by Angus

Dormice - Not Mice At All!

These are surprisingly interesting animals which might turn out to live in your woodland. The first surprise is that they are not mice at all, although they are rodents.  There are two sorts of dormice you might come across – the edible dormouse (Glis glis) and the native dormouse, sometimes called the hazel dormouse and technically known as Muscardinus avellanarius. The edible one was only introduced into Britain in 1902 and is only found in a 200 square mile area around the area near to where it was introduced – Tring in Hertfordshire. It was farmed for eating in Roman times and is still eaten as a delicacy in Slovenia, but in England it is protected and therefore, despite its name, is not on any menu.

You are much more likely to find the native dormouse, and it is this one that this blog is concerned with. If you do find one it is distinctive in having a furry tail, a golden coat and black eyes. The native dormouse hibernates from about October until April and it is one of only three British mammals that hibernate – the others being the hedgehog and the bat. If you accidentally disturb it, it will probably be in its classic sleeping position curled up with its tail wrapped around its head and this suggests the origin of its name - from the French “dormir” - to sleep. Actually they are protected species under the WCA (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) so you must not deliberately disturb them.

Dormouse Lifestyle

The lifestyle of the dormouse is a bit surprising as it lives most of its waking life up trees at nighttime. It is a good thing that it can climb so well because its main foods are seeds, flowers and aphids. It eats a wide variety of mostly protein-rich foods but, like humans, cannot digest cellulose. Your woodland is more likely to contain dormice if it is in the south-east of England, East Anglia or Shropshire, and even more likely if your woodland is part of a larger woodland block. More isolated woodlands can be host to dormice if there are hedges to connect to larger wooded areas. In any event there won’t be many as they occur in low densities. This low density pattern seems to have helped in that they have no natural predators.

Dormice have a long life expectancy for a small mammal and will live for 4-5 years. Within that time the females will have only one litter each per year.

UK Distribution of Dormice

They have often been thought of as limited to hazel woodlands, but this idea may arise because hazel is usually coppiced in the winter every 7-8 years and coppice workers are likely to report the finding of hibernating dormice. In fact they occur much more widely than just hazel woodlands.

There has been a lot of research on the distribution of dormice that included the Great Nut Hunts of 1993 and 2001 in which chewed hazelnut shells were sent to researchers at Royal Holloway. This established that dormice are virtually extinct in the Midlands and Yorkshire. There have been re-introductions but only at about one site per year for the last 15 years or so.

How a hazelnut is chewed gives a good indication of what animal has eaten it. You can see more on this and on the Great Nut Hunts at: http://www.greatnuthunt.org.uk/about/default.asp. In essence a dormouse will chew a circular opening in the top of the shell to get to the nut. “If you are looking out for hazelnut evidence,” says Ian White of the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, “you should look in late September, after the hazelnuts have matured but before the leaf fall.”

Do You Have Dormice in Your Woodland?

If you think there may be dormice in your woodland, you may like to make a dormouse box. This is a bit like a small bird box but the hole is at the back to discourage birds from using it and so that the dormouse can climb in from the tree trunk . If you really want to encourage dormice you can get the “Dormouse Conservation Handbook” free online at: http://www.english-nature.org.uk/pubs/publication/PDF/Dormouse_web.pdf . Its conservation status is further described in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan at http://www.ukbap.org.uk/UKPlans.aspx?ID=462 .

Why Bother?

A species like a dormouse is an “umbrella species” in that if the conditions are right for dormice they will be suitable for a wide range of other woodland species. They need a diversity of plant species, a good structure to the woodland (ideally uneven aged trees) and trees which are not too crowded together. Hedgerows that provide a link between woodland areas are good for dormice but also for many other species. Many people want to protect the dormouse just because it is native and represents part of the diversity in our woodlands.

Have you come across any evidence of dormice in your woodland?

See also https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/wildlife/the-dormouse/

Posted in: Flora & Fauna, Woodland Activities ~ On: 10 April, 2009

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26 comments so far

Jonathan Mitchell
4 September, 2017

Hello Everyone,

The last time I saw one was down in north Bedfordshire in England and I think they are a lot more adaptable than people think. It used to live pretty much outside the back door at my mother’s old bungalow.

I am now living in the Highlands of Scotland and sometimes put crumbs out for the sparrows and noticed a new visitor – a dormouse – cannily hiding behind a rock in my backyard. Now it has taken up residence in my kitchen.

I like to think I am a compassionate soul and as it is not a pest as such, I actually feed it. Just looking at it scampering around the kitchen floor just now and it seems in remarkably fine fettle, so to speak. Being wild, it is still quite scared of me, though from what I read, the mousie has dropped lucky and intends to over-winter in my kitchen.

17 October, 2016

Why is the edible dormouse a protected species in England when it is not native to England?

30 March, 2016

Can anyone tell me if a dormice can find where they lived. My neighbour across the street has taken my motorbike. Its nit been used for 4 years. He’s stripped it to find dormice living under the seat and air filter. He says they ran off when he took the seat off. Will they know how to get back in my shed? Ive made a small him for them. I knew they were in the shed but not in my motor bike. Thanks

Findlay Cornelius
29 December, 2015

A dormouse was spotted foraging under a suspended fatball for birds.
December 28 , 2015 in Motherwell.

Sue Price
29 December, 2015

Or if your in the Hereford area I am looking after one until I can get it to her [email protected]

Sue Price
29 December, 2015

from my understanding you should seek help, and not release them. Paighton zoo or a lady called Hazel Ryan at the Wildwood Trust in Kent on 01227 711 471 after 9am

Lindsay Smith
9 November, 2015

My cat brings in dormice on a regular basis. I have just put one in the garden, he looked so tiny and lost. I don’t know if he will find his way back to his nest.

29 May, 2012

Sorry but the word ‘mouse’ does not come from the Ancient Greek word ‘humus’ – the Ancient Greeks had their own word for ‘mouse’, which was ‘mys’! Our word ‘mouse’ is an Anglo-Saxon word, but with cognates in numerous other languages including Ancient Greek, Latin, and Old Persian, which suggests it has Proto-Indo-European roots.

Ann Johansen
31 January, 2012

I was disturbed this evening by some brassware being knocked over in my hearth, and discovered my cat staring intently at the grate. I put the cat out to investigate and discovered a live dormouse which I tried to rescue but it eluded me, and is now on the loose. I really don’t want my cats to kill it, is it possible it will find it’s way out of the house? It is such a beautiful tiny creature I would hate it to come to harm. I am pretty certain it is a dormouse. My postcode is TQ1 1LX.

Mast and Mast Years | The Woodlands.co.uk Blog
28 February, 2011

[…] animals feed on beech nuts or acorns. The hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), despite its name, is also partial to beech nuts. Squirrels (both red […]

14 December, 2010

Hi, I don`t understand what you mean.

Ian White
16 November, 2010

Oops – a mistake on my last post; to help our small animals that are predated by cats it’s best to keep cats in at night and only let them out during the day.

Ian White
16 November, 2010

Your comment raises three interesting points:

The word dormice comes from the french ‘dormir’ meaning to sleep as they are our only terrestrial mammal, apart from hedgehogs, that hibernate. Mice comes from the Greek ‘humus’ meaning of the earth and refers to many small brown animals. Dormice, unlike woodmice live at low densities so although where there is one there is likely to be more, there still won’t be very many.

Dormice, bank voles and woodmice all make round holes in hazelnuts. When looking for dormouse nibbled nuts the secret is to look at the direction of the teeth marks around the edge of the hole, they wil be parallel to the side of the hole rather than at right angles as made by bank voles and woodmice.

It use to be thought that cats rarely caught dormice but I have had at least three examples sent to me in the last two months. Unfortunately cats do have a huge effect on Britains fauna – in 2003 11,500 prey items were caught by 700 cats in five months, approximately 1 bird, mammal, amphibean or reptile killed by each cat every 9 days. So if your cat lives for 15 years it may kill up to 600 animals in its lifetime. And there are thought to be about 10 million cats in the UK.
So how to reduce the carnage – feeding your cat more won’t help; it will just make it a more efficient predator – but putting a bell round it’s neck may give potential prey a running chance and only letting it out at night will give our nocturnal mammals a feeding opportunity.
But if your cat does happen to bring in a dormouse please take a photograph and email it with your postcode location to PTES so at least we can find out if your cat has discovered a new dormouse population.

Ian White (Dormouse Officer)
Peoples Trust for Endangered Species

Sue Lacey
15 November, 2010

I have hazel trees at the bottom of my garden and for several years at autumn time have seen signs of the ‘doormouse chewed nut’ i.e the small round hole. Having never seen a doormouse I was not completely sure, but have always been hopeful we had doormice. Yesterday however, my delightful cat presented me with a ‘present’. I was absolutely devastated, as she had caught a doormouse. Short of getting rid of the cat, is there anything you can suggest to prevent this happening? They are absoultely delightful, and I feel very privaleged that they are in my garden, and I would like it to remain that way.

25 October, 2010

pdf on the Dormouse as a European protected species

25 October, 2010

A hedge in my local area has been 1/2 severly cut. There is evidence of dormice in the area within 1km and I have also collected dormice nibbled hazel nuts at the site of the hedge. So far I have managed to save the other half of the hedge. I believe that it is an offence to damage or destroy dormouse habitat- how do I communicate this to the Council and stop further destruction and maintain this important part of the great green corridor?

URGENT HELP required!

Mrs Kelly
19 November, 2009

Not sure if I have a dormoouse in the garden. can you tell me if they take small jumps as opposed to running when moving around. who do I call to find out and are they a protected species? Just wondered if you could help Thankyou

Mast and Mast Years | The Woodlands.co.uk Blog
28 November, 2008

[…] animals feed on beech nuts or acorns.  The hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), despite its name, is also partial to beech nuts.  Squirrels (both red […]

Annette Campbell
4 November, 2008

Two or three weeks ago, our cat brought us an undamaged brown mouse which we scooped up into a bug container for closer inspection.

Although we thought it was a mouse, in fact, it had smaller ears than a mouse and large round fluffy head. Its body was equally round. From your website I believe we had a dormouse, it was a very attractive creature indeed and we released it into a field.

Jersey, Channel Islands.

19 October, 2008

Release of dormice
Some 35 dormouse were released into woodland near Aysgarth in June this year. Wildlife experts have returned to check on their progress and have found a number of well grown youngsters. The presence of such youngsters is one of the indicators being used to evaluate the success of the project. The release of the mice is part of a scheme that involves Natural England, the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group and The People Trust for Endangered Species. Further detail and information can be found at :-

Tracy Pepler
11 September, 2008

The PTES are having a competition for those who are caring for Dormice, you can read it here:

I am hearing a lot about the new laws regarding work in woods and destroying dormouse habitat – don’t know all the clear guidelines yet, but please remember to check each stool of each tree carefully before you coppice. Not knowing you are destroying a habitat is no longer a defence, be careful!

29 July, 2008

Please help I have dormice or ghiro in my villa and I can not get them out. They sometimes have a smell in the wall that does not go away. I do not want to kill them and have used live traps but no luck.

5 May, 2008

in the summer of 2007 i had a dormouse living in my ivy.i have been up in the shed in may 2008 to find it nested in a box of material but i do not know if it is still alive ,so i have left it alone hoping next time i look it will be gone. It will be very sad if it has died.


Cherry coxhead

Richard Waller
15 April, 2008


The piece on dormice (native): I am now curious to know what it is, as you state that it is not a mouse! I accept that it is a rodent, but is that all that can be said about it?


Richard Waller

Mrs J R Coward
13 April, 2008

I understand that the dormouse environment is woodland but i definately caught sight of one at the end of last summer early in the morning balancing on a bramble leaf, in my garden. Golden brown and large black eyes. It was a very privileged moment.
The end of my garden is quite overgrown and has hazel nut trees in it. I would like to help protect this species by putting a box as suggested in a tree. I have heard that these can be obtained free from a conservation project. Perhaps you know of this project and could pass any info on this to me.
Thank you


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