© Edward Mills

Dreaming of Dormice (2016 - now)

The Rusland Valley was identified as a potential breeding area for the endangered Hazel Dormouse. Nationally it is a declining species but is known to be present here in the north west.

In order to help this evocative species, there was a need identified to assess the species occurrence in the scheme area, learn more about what we could do to conserve their habitats, whilst also raising the awareness in the local community. Through installation and monitoring of nesting boxes, the project has tried to confirm if indeed there are dormouse populations in the area and to what extent.

The data, information and findings have been gathered together and are now being used to make recommendations for conservation and woodland management. This will help to improve outcomes for any existing, and future, dormouse populations.

The project that ran during the Rusland Horizons Landscape Partnership was very fortunate to be supported by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), who provided training for volunteers and carried out an assessment of the area.

During 2020, further monitoring and maintainence of the existing 450 dormouse boxes took place, and this monitoring cycle is scheduled to take place once again in 2021. 


  • 450 dormouse nest boxes have been installed, with continued monitoring, over a 10 ha area on 13 different sites.
  • Local community volunteers kindly gave their time to help with nest box monitoring, learn about dormice and how they are part of Rusland’s heritage.
  • A Dormous Action Group was formed which will remain in place to continue the monitoring and checking of existing nest boxes.
  • Many private landowners have committed and engaged with the project.
  • Several educational, and fun, nut hunt events held, encouraging local community involvement.
  • People have learnt how to spot a hazel dormouse; looking at how nuts are gnawed to determine if it was a dormouse that had been eating them!
  • Many other interesting and exciting wildlife findings, such as; shrews, woodmice, bats, insects and lots of different bird’s nests.

So far so good...

  • 2 dormice ecology courses successfully delivered.
  • 21 landowners working with the project allowing nest box monitoring on their land.
  • 66 dedicated volunteers actively involved in the project providing invaluable help and enthusiasm.
  • ID skills training given to 44 volunteers, so they can correctly identify a hazel dormouse.
  • 3 successful, and well-attended, Nut Hunt events
  • 450 nest boxes installed over 13 sites, which will continue to be monitored.

Did you know?

  • Hazel dormice are our only native dormouse.
  • Once widespread in the South Lakes, they are now only recorded in a few locations.
  • Dormice are a flagship species, where they occur is usually suitable for a wide range of species.
  • Dormice are really lazy, they hibernate from October through to April or May.
  • Cumbria is at the northern most limit of their range in the UK.
  • They don’t just live in hazel coppices, they are known to have been found feeding, nesting and hibernating in conifer plantations, fields and hedgerows.
  • See our short article on the Hazel Dormouse


Project Lead

Rusland Horizons Staff Team

The Challenge

The hazel dormouse is a declining species across England but is known to be present within the surrounds of the scheme area, one of its northernmost outposts in the UK. Its decline is linked to the cessation and fragmentation of coppice woodland. It is a shy mammal that is dependent on the dense shrub layer, ample food and cover, which actively coppiced woodland provides. The species can also suffer when populations become isolated in a landscape. Hedgerows, therefore, can provide essential corridors between woodlands.

Our Approach

We have involved and brought together a number of key partner organisations, interested members of the local community and experts to become involved within the monitoring programme. Volunteers have been recruited and trained in dormouse monitoring techniques, which they can continue to use in the future and help educate others. The training involved repairing nest boxes, installing new boxes and carrying out nut hunts. The results from the surveys carried out over the last three years will contribute to the understanding of dormouse populations in the South Lakes. They will help in the development of a broader future strategy for the conservation of species in the area.

© Rusland Horizons 2017 - 2024. All rights reserved.
Rusland Horizons was a Landscape Partnership funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund until July 2019. It is now being delivered by The Rusland Horizons Trust Limited. Company No. 2133450; Charity No. 519410; Registered Office: Bleacott Farm, Witherslack, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria LA11 6RZ.