Animal Conservation

Dormouse bridge over the railway could save endangered species | Wildlife

Measuring 12 meters long and only 30 cm wide, it is a bridge of miniature proportions.

But it is hoped that the square metal tube – which will become the first ‘dormouse bridge’ across a British railway – could help save Britain’s endangered wild dormouse population from extinction.

The new bridge, which hopes to connect two new dormouse populations in Morecombe Bay, is due to be installed on the side of an existing bridge in the summer of 2022 on the Furness Line in Lancashire.

Based on a proven Japanese design, three similar bridges have already been built in the UK – two on the M1 and one in St Athan in South Wales. But this latest project marks the first time that a dormouse bridge will be built on a British railway.

Britain’s arboreal hazel dormouse population has been in constant decline since 1950, but over the past two decades it has halved. The species has declined 51% since 2000 and has disappeared from 17 English counties, according to a 2019 report from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) conservation charity.

One of the main reasons for their decline is the loss of quality woodland habitats, but insufficient link hedges and climate change are also factors, said Ian White, head of dormice and training at PTES. .

He said the 30 dormouse they have reintroduced to the Arnside and Silverdale area of ​​outstanding natural beauty have had a “great start”, with at least 12 litters born this year. “We hope this new bridge will allow two neighboring populations to create a local metapopulation in the area, which will really help bring this rare and beautiful species back from the brink.”

In addition to connecting two populations, intended to be reintroduced on either side of the track, the bridge will also serve as a potential hiding place for predators.

By connecting the two populations, it is hoped that they will be encouraged to mate, search for food and find better nesting sites.

Fragmented populations are particularly bad for genetic diversity, White said, adding that he hopes this dormouse bridge will be “the first of many” across the railroads.

He said he was “confident” the dormice would use the bridge if all went according to plan with the reintroduction. When they first tested the design on the Isle of Wight, they had dormice on it in just nine hours.

The £ 40,000 conservation project, funded by Network Rail, is being built by consultancy firm Animex, which works to find mitigation solutions for wildlife.

Rory Kingdon, a main sponsor of Network Rail, said they were “delighted” that the hazelnut dormice are being encouraged to breed near the bridge, “so they have a chance to prosper for generations to come.”

“Network Rail is committed to improving biodiversity and protecting habitats for the future,” Kingdon added.