It’s time for a ‘Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ down at WWT Arundel in Sussex as staff celebrate the first sighting of a rare Hazel Dormouse – that popular character depicted in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland stories. This find is also a first for WWT, as none of the organisation’s nine wetland wildlife reserves across the UK have the species on site.
In the Alice story, the nocturnal Dormouse is always falling asleep during the scene and sits between the March Hare and the Mad Hatter who use him as a cushion when Alice arrives at the start of the chapter.
Emma Hutchins, Biodiversity Project Manager for WWT, said: “We surveyed for Dormice at WWT Arundel because there was anecdotal reference to them historically in the area, and we were looking to carry out some scrub management work. Aware that the work could impact Dormice we decided to take the precaution of surveying the site.
“Much to our surprise, on the first day of the survey a Dormouse scuttled out of one of the special tubes we had erected. Now we have established a presence, we need to apply for a licence before we can continue to expand the survey.”
The Hazel Dormouse is the only native species of dormouse in Britain. They are protected by law because their numbers and distribution have halved over the last century, and are also a Biodiversity Action Plan priority species for the UK. Dormice are normally found in highly diverse deciduous woodland.
The species is distinctive, but not often seen. They spend most of their active time high off the ground but hibernate on or under the ground from about October unti March or April. The best way to establish Dormouse presence is to look for gnawed hazel huts.