Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Dormouse Gets A Bridge

Yesterday I heard a story on National Public Radio -- specifically on PRI's The World -- about a small, rare rodent in South Wales. It seems that the common or hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) is not so common, declining in population due to the usual suspects -- loss of and changes to its woodland habitat and isolation of breeding populations by roads and other development.

The local Council in one South Wales community is trying to help by building the dormouse a bridge across a new bypass. This species of dormouse spends its spring and summer in trees and shrubs, rarely coming to the ground. So they can't walk or run across a road to reach dormice on the other side. They move about in trees and the bypass severed that link. The new bridge -- a series of suspended reinforced mesh tubes that lead from one side of the road to the other -- is meant to re-establish an arboreal corridor for dormice movement. You can see a picture of the bridges here.

Of course there is some local outrage, as taxpayer funds were used to build the bridge, and as these things go, it was a bit expensive. However, if the bypass had not been built, the dormice would not need a bridge. Nice to know some local officials care about wildlife when development wreaks havoc on their populations.

The dormouse is golden in color with a furry, prehensile tail and large, black eyes. You can read more about the dormouse and see pictures via The Dormouse Monitor, here and here. There is a saying in France, "to sleep like a dormouse." They are sleepy creatures, spending six months or more hibernating in a small woven nest on or near the ground. The dormouse, like our flying squirrels, are nocturnal so most people never see them.

I just might have to visit South Wales someday to see the diminutive dormouse (or at least its bridge) and other favorite creatures such as the hedgehog and badger that I first learned about reading Beatrix Potter, a favorite author when I was young.

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