Relentless rise in human population in the UK is killing off the hazel dormouse

NEWS AND COMMENT: There is an interesting little article in The Times today about the rare hazel dormouse going extinct in effect in the UK. The gradual extinction of the hazel dormouse in the UK is a paradigm of the causes of extinction of other species in the UK, which is why I am writing about it.

Hazel dormouse
Hazel dormouse. Image: BBC.
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In general terms, the reason why the hazel dormouse has suffered a 72% fall in its population in the UK over the past two decade is because they’ve lost their habitat. They got nowhere to live and the underlying reason for that in my view is the relentless rise in human population in the UK. The great man, Sir David Attenborough, once called humans a disease spreading across the globe killing off nature. In terms of wildlife conservation, he is correct. Strong word, yes, but true.

And on that topic, just below this small Times article (Friday, November 10, 2023) there is a large advert from Lloyds Bank and Crisis which states boldly that “Britain needs 1 million more genuinely affordable homes”. Britain needs new homes all the time. There has to be a mass building programme in the UK to keep pace with human population growth.

Inevitably that means the destruction of habitat. It means more people and therefore more commercial activity. More farming to feed more people. It means the loss of hedgerows and small woods and ultimately the kind of landscape where you find the hazel dormouse.

And in addition, it has to be said, when there are more people there are more domestic cats. There was a surge in domestic cat ownership in the UK during Covid. More cats mean more predation and the mouse is a classic prey animal for the domestic cat. And in the UK, as you might know, the vast majority of people let their cats go outside unsupervised.

You can see the formula for the destruction of the hazel dormouse in the UK and this happening right before our eyes. There is no genuine desire to resolve the underlying problems causing the demise of this cute animal in Great Britain.

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More on the hazel dormouse

I’ll add some detail. The hazel dormouse is a nocturnal tree-dwelling rodent and it’s already been wiped out in the north of the England. At the beginning of the 20th century, they were present in all counties in England and Wales barred two. Now they are only found south of a line between Flintshire and North Wales and Suffolk except for a single population in Cumbria.

Between 2000 and 2022, numbers declined by 72% according to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, a charity. They monitor 400 sites. There are now an estimated 930,000 hazel dormice in England and Wales.

A lot of money has gone into protecting and conserving this animal without success. It is classified as “vulnerable” by the IUCN Red List but there will be people who believe it should be classified as “endangered”.

They are important little animal because their presence tells us that a landscape is fit for woodland birds and butterflies. They mostly live in bushes and scrubby undergrowth of woodlands and also in hedgerows.

Another negative impact on their survival has been wet weather. Britain is far wetter than it used to be and I would put this down to global warming. The hazel dormouse has not evolved to be successful in wet weather because their coat is not waterproof.

Note: generally, the IUCN red list classifies the hazel dormouse as of least concern in fact, on my research, but the last time they assessed the situation was in 2016. It is present of a very large area from the south of England and Wales and then covering a large swathe of Europe except for southern France and Spain and up into Russia as far as Moscow and as far east as the Ukraine.

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