The work being done to protect dormice at the site of the North Devon Link Road upgrade may change national thinking on the species.
A critical part of our improvements on the A361 has seen contactor Griffiths ensure that a series of mitigation measures have been introduced in line with the Natural England dormouse licence granted for the scheme.
Advanced planting of hedgerows and more than 20,000 trees was carried out prior to vegetation clearance in areas where the A361 is being widened.
More than 150 dormouse boxes, which look like large bird boxes but with the entrance facing the tree trunk, have been installed to provide extra locations for nesting. Around 45 nests are active.
A dormouse bridge crossing will be created at the new proposed West Buckland junction which will make it possible for the local dormouse population to expand to suitable habitat in the wider area of the scheme.
Dormice do not usually travel far when foraging at night, however they do occasionally disperse further and are known to travel up to 5km due to seasonal changes.
Ecologist Frances Vallely, from environmental consultancy TACP, believes that Devon’s landscape is helping the species to thrive in the area near the Link Road.
Frances said: “The mix of habitats adjacent to the A361 have proved to be optimal for dormice and our work here will be helping towards national guidance on where you’re most likely to find them.
“It’s unusual to find so many in an area but it’s because the hedgerows and connectivity in Devon are so good. Traditional hedgerows have been left undisturbed as fields haven’t been widened in the way they have in other counties.
“The mitigation measures are working well. It usually takes up to a couple of years for dormice to use the nest boxes but they’ve been using them straight away. The nests they’ve made in the boxes are impressive and they’re keeping them nice and dry.”
Councillor Andrea Davis, Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Environment and Transport, said:
“Every effort is being made to ensure that the environmental impact of the scheme is reduced as much as possible. Even before work got underway, we ensured that 20,000 new trees were planted and a huge amount of work is going into protecting wildlife and creating habitats for them.”
Although the majority of work has been creating new habitats for dormice, there has also been work with otters, reptiles and bats.
Two shelters (called Hibernacula) have been constructed to provide refuge and hibernation habitat for reptiles and amphibians. Prior to the start of work, reptile mats were installed across the scheme to attract and collect reptiles before placing them in the shelters.
To help encourage large mammals to go under the road, fencing to direct mammals to culverts will be installed and otter ledges will be improved in a culvert. Areas identified as having potential for otters and badgers are regularly monitored and this will continue for five years after the completion of the scheme.
Bird nests are monitored until chicks are fledged, and although no bats were found roosting in any trees during surveys, a number of bat boxes have been installed in the area.