Rarely, common dormice, which are typically golden brown in colour, can be black. © Max Anderson
It’s been well documented that dormice are struggling in the UK. As their habitat becomes more depleted due to urbanisation and modern farming techniques, these iconic mammals are being pushed to the brink of extinction.
But in spite of the dormouse’s gloomy outlook, there was some celebration to be had when National Dormouse Monitoring Programme (NDMP) volunteers found a very rare black dormouse in the Blackdown Hills.
Volunteers had been checking dormouse boxes that had been supplied by People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTS) on farmland in the area when they discovered the animal.
“The National Dormouse Monitoring Programme has been running for more than 25 years, with volunteers collecting data on thousands of dormice at nearly 400 sites,” commented PTES Dormouse Officer, Ian White. “Not once has anyone come across a black dormouse.”
So rare, in fact, are black dormice that they have never been recorded in the UK before, and have previously only been recorded in small numbers in northern Germany.
But although the colouration of the black dormouse is unusual, it is in fact the same species as the common, or hazel, dormouse, which is typically golden brown in colour.
In the Blackdown Hills, there is a healthy population of common dormice that live on farmland managed with conservation in mind, where hedgerows are maintained using historic techniques.
Although agriculture is one of the factors that has contributed to the animal’s demise, dormice — and other wildlife — benefit from land that is managed using more traditional farming methods.
Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine