World's Weird News

Endangered dormice ‘thrive on central reservation’

Posted on: July 28, 2009

 Dormice asleep in the middle of the A30 in Cornwall.  Photo: EPICNEWS.CO.UK

Dormice asleep in the middle of the A30 in Cornwall. Photo: EPICNEWS.CO.UK

Endangered dormice are thriving on the central reservation of a busy road in Cornwall, and are even able to regularly cross safely to the other side, according to ecologists.
By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent

The mice, which snooze all day and hibernate for seven months of the year, usually live in quiet woodland areas or the margins of fields.

However, a year-long study, commissioned by the Highways Agency, found that a population has built up on the central reservation of the A30 at Penlan, Cornwall.

The creatures are not only thriving but appear to be able to regularly cross the busy road to forage in the surrounding area.

Leo Gubert, an ecologist who carried out the research for the Highways Agency, fitted microchips to 50 dormice.

By returning regularly to monitor the movement of the animals, he found that many were able to cross the road safely and one even managed to do it twice.

“They are not supposed to be able to walk across open spaces of grass or tarmac so this is a very surprising result. We believe that as the population increases they have been forced to disperse for breeding, or to look for food. We have suspected that they were able to cross roads but no-one has been able to prove until now.”

Dormice used to be found all around Britain but numbers have decreased recently because of intensive farming methods and loss of habitat like hedgerows and woodland.

The nocturnal animals forage for insects and seeds at night and usually live in trees.

But Mr Gubert said the animals can also live by roadsides.

“The striking thing is that the population density on the central reservation is similar to what you would find in ancient woodland. They are not ideal conditions obviously, but the dormice seem to thrive. This might be because although they are in the middle of a dual carriageway, they are less likely to be disturbed by predators such as cats and dogs.”

The Highways Agency, which has a responsibility to protect endangered animals living on the verges of roads, has had to build tunnels or rope bridges for creatures like dormice in the past.

“If we can show that dormice can cross roads by themselves and are adaptable to different environments that saves money for us as we do not have to put in mitigation methods,” said a spokesman.

However the People’s Trust for Endangered Species said dormice still require protection in order to boost numbers.


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