At the moment it looks like a lot of wood, wire and green plastic, but in just a few years’ time this new hedgerow will become a ‘highway’ for the highly endangered – and super cute – hazel dormouse.
Hard at work on Hollins Farm in mid-Wensleydale was Hawes-based arboricultural contractor Dave Allen.
“It takes seconds to plant a tree,” he said, as he cut the ground with a spade and inserted a 70cm-long hazel ‘whip’.
Hazel dormice had become extinct in Yorkshire and much of the country, but were reintroduced in 2008 and 2016 in two small areas of woodland in mid-Wensleydale.
Following the second reintroduction, a three-year project began to connect the two woodlands – and further connect to a third new woodland on the Bolton Castle estate. If successful, this will create a three-mile-wide habitat for the dormice.
“We’re making the connections [between suitable woodland habitats],” said Phill Hibbs, Trees and Woodlands Officer for the National Park Authority, on a visit to Hollins Farm. “Now we need the dormice to find them.
“Dormice are arboreal creatures going from branch to branch and they do best in a shrub environment. They need hawthorn, blackthorn, spindle, hazel – especially hazel – bird cherry and dogrose.”
Phill spent the first year of the project, 2017/18, surveying existing hedgerows in the area and working out where new ones were needed. Two main ways to get connectivity were established, along the River Ure and along the route of the former Wensleydale Railway.
Open evenings were held to reach out to landowners in the hope that they would allow the new planting on their land. Stuart Raw of Hollins Farm took little persuading.
“There’s no real advantage for the farmer, but he wants the farm to support as much wildlife as possible. Hedges can last hundreds of years if well maintained,” said Phill, adding with a smile that trees visible from the farmhouse tend to do better than those out of sight.
The three-year project, now entering its final year, has been funded with grants of £75,000 from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and nearly £48,000 from Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust.
Each whip has cost about 25 pence, but the total cost of getting a tree into the ground has been more like £3, taking fencing costs into account. Rabbits are the biggest threat to the new trees, as they like to nibble away on the soft bark.
Phill is about to complete his training as a licensed dormice handler, so that he can take part in monitoring work as well as tree planting.
“Dormice are lovely to handle. When we first monitor them in April/May they are very docile. You can hold them in your hand and they curl up in a ball and stay asleep. Later in the year they are so lively they can jump off to a branch. They are tiny and very delicate, but you need to hold them firmly so they don’t get away,” he said.