The first ever litter of endangered hazel dormice has been born at a conservation charity in Devon after a 51% decline in their population in the UK in the last 20 years.
The four pups were born at Wildwood Escot - a wildlife conservation charity that has been continuing its work under the restrictions of the pandemic.
Hazel dormice have been fighting for survival due to habitat-loss and fragmentation, climate change and changes to woodland management practices.
The charity says climate change is a threat as it causes the young pups to emerge from hibernation too early when there is not enough food yet.
The warm weather stretching into autumn also causes an increasing number of second dormice litters. These litters are born underweight and will go into hibernation without enough body fat to sleep through the winter without feeding.
Habitat loss and fragmentation also mean the dormice become more isolated, with limited access to food resources and an increasing risk of predation.
However, the birth of these four pups brings hope to the struggling species.
It is the first ever litter for the charity, and its goal is to breed more dormice to release into the wild in Devon and around the UK.
The work is part of Wildwood Escot’s dormouse conservation programme, in partnership with the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group.
Most species reintroductions have been postponed due to the pandemic, however public support has allowed Wildwood Escot to continue with this conservation work through sponsorship of dormice nest boxes.
The charity says these boxes allow dormice to raise their young and hibernate in a secure and safe place.
Around 50 boxes will be placed in secret locations and regularly checked by staff as part of the project, which the charity hopes will help the dormice to thrive.