Dormouse S.O.S.

As most of you may know, we live in the countryside, on the edge of a village in Devon. On one side we have neighbours, on another a field, on a third is the road through the village and on the fourth is a small school. When we first moved here 21 years ago it was the village school that we had next to us and everything was fine. It was only a couple of years before the school closed due to lack of children, there were only 12 attending the school, so it wasn’t surprising when this happened.


A private school bought the property and once again, everything was fine until this year when it was announced that the school was closing and that the plot would be used for development. The first planning application for 12 small houses was withdrawn, we presume because half of the houses were to be built on green belt. We are now considering the 2nd planning application which is for 3 huge houses to be built on one side of the plot, not on green belt.


The houses are so huge that they will be built right up to the boundary of the little lane that runs between us and them and the proposal is that the trees and hedges between us should come down. The trees must be at least 100 years old and the hedge is rather a scruffy mess. A scruffy mess to us humans but a wonderfully safe highway for the dormice that live there along with all the other little creatures.


We have spent rather a lot of time googling dormice and finding that they are a protected species and so is their habitat, so they do have the weight of the law to protect them. It’s just that we have to alert everyone to the fact that the dormice are there. We mentioned them and the large bats that live in the trees that they want to cut down, bats are also protected by law, but no-one seems to have taken any notice of our first objection, probably because the first plan was withdrawn before it got to the committee stage.

While sitting here composing our objection to the second lot of plans, there was a knock on the door. Would you believe it, co-incidence or what…..Devon Wildlife Trust were going round all the houses in the village trying to recruit new members !!! Poor man didn’t know what he was letting himself in for ! He gave us various phone numbers to call and web sites to visit and loads of information to read. We have also found a local independent councillor who objects to the trees and hedges being felled, so have asked her for support. She came round yesterday, had a look at the trees and hedges from our side, was really delighted that we had dormice and bats living there and promised to do what she could.

It’s not a case of us not wanting any development at all next to us, just not to put the houses so close to the trees and hedges so that they have to be cut down and the habitat for our protected animals destroyed. We have found hibernation nests at various times in the garden when I have been tidying, so we know the dormice are there, if only I had photographed them . They live where there is oak,hazel,honeysuckle and bramble, all of which we have along that hedge.

The large bat that we have seen remains a mystery, it comes out of the huge trees during the day and swoops lazily over the pond and the circular lawn hoovering up the midges, we have seen this a few times during the summer. It is much larger than the little Pipistrelle bats that dart round the house on summer evenings and much slower in its flight, so hopefully someone at the Devon Wildlife Trust is going to identify it for us, and yes, we did sign up to become members !

Since we have been here the variety of wildlife is increasing year on year, we now have our own private nature reserve here. It is possible to have a wildlife friendly garden without it looking a mess and being full of nettles ! It is just the backs of the borders that I don’t tidy and there are a few corners which never get disturbed but the rest looks just like anyone else’s garden I hope. If I am buying new plants for the garden I try to think of what else will enjoy the plant apart from me. We have so many different varieties of birds, bees and butterflies these days so we weren’t surprised to find that the dormice had joined the voles, shrews and field mice that we sometimes see in the garden.

Also by the hedge that is under threat, is our pond which has a thriving colony of newts, don’t think they are great crested, but even so, don’t want their habitat disturbed. We have seen a grass snake swimming in the pond, they also like to have somewhere nice and shady to lie up, under all the brambles in the lane would be ideal, no one can walk in the lane, the brambles block it totally!

So there we are,  fighting to save the habitat of our dormice and bats,  someone has to help these animals that are threatened, only threatened because we humans think we have a right to put concrete everywhere. We know that one day plans will be submitted that will be passed by the council , surely we can live side by side with the wildlife that was there before us and a compromise be reached.                  Will let you all know how we get on.


Thanks to Bengt Lundberg and the BBC website for the fantastic dormouse photo, wouldn’t you want to save such a gorgeous little creature, along with his home ?

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28 Responses to Dormouse S.O.S.

  1. Christina says:

    Good luck with this project. If you get enoughpeople interested you might just be able to at least get theplanned houses moved a little. I’ll be watching your progress. Christina

    • Pauline says:

      Thanks for your interest Christina, I think the answer is to build a smaller house so that it doesn’t come so near the hedge and trees, but even then, its amazing the damage builders do “accidently”. There really is nowhere to move it without it going onto the green belt part of the plot. We, in the village are all waiting to see what happens.

  2. Liz says:


    Get a tree preservation order put on some of the trees. That way they cannot fell them and will help protect the hedge between you and the new development.
    Wildlife is often only a consideration to planners unless it can be proven they are indeed there; I’d contact the planners and see what can be done/ what they have in place for dealing with such issues. I’ve known them to put stops on any work for wildlife such as newts.
    Although, really there ought to have been some sort of public consultation for these issues to be discussed..

    • Pauline says:

      Thank you Liz for your helpful comments, I think a TPO is the way to go so will probably follow that route. Now that the council have been informed, we have been told that a survey will have to be carried out, and that can’t be done until hibernation is over, probably next April .

  3. catmint says:

    Dear Pauline, I wish you all the best for this project, to protect those wonderful creatures. (I actually thought dormice were made up by Lewis Carroll!) It does sound as if you have the support of a good advocacy organization. Good luck, looking forward to hearing how this pans out … cheers, catmint

    • Pauline says:

      Thank you Catmint for your support, your post on the Growling grass frog inspired me to write this ! Looking up dormice on Wikipedia, they say that dormice sleep for 3/4 of the year. The name comes from the Anglo Norman “dormeus” which means “the sleepy one” and was shown as always sleeping by Lewis Carroll. Its amazing what you find out through gardening isn’t it !

  4. Oh Pauline, I so sympathize with you, and will be going through something similar at Kilbourne Grove. The house behind us burned down a couple of years ago, and I am very worried about what will be put up in its place. I called the planning department at the time, and they basically told me it was none of my business. And we also have a very thick and unkempt, shrubbery between us, which I am worried will come down at some point in the future. No dormouse in Canada, but it is certainly home to lots of other wildlife. And I feel very out of touch, being so far away, always worried I will go home and some monsterous building will be there.

    • Pauline says:

      Deborah, I feel for you, at least we are here, on the spot and can keep an eye on things. I think we are lucky to have found our “green” councillor who is going to make sure that a survey is done, but that won’t be until next year, everything is hibernating at the moment ! Councils here are very keen to be seen as “green” at the moment, could you not find anybody like that where you are, or do you have the equivalent of our county Wildlife Trusts that maybe will be able to help to keep an eye on the situation while you are away? Thanks for your concern.

  5. Your neighborhood is lucky to have someone like you who will keep on top of this issue.

    • Pauline says:

      Thank you Carolyn, I will certainly be keeping up to date with the situation, but I think anyone would want to save the British Dormouse, it is so cute ! However the bats are just as important to me and also other wildlife that I havn’t discovered yet that lives in the same habitat, if we save the habitat, then we save the animals I hope. I’m sure, once the village knows what the situation is, we will have lots more support.

  6. Liz says:

    Hi Pauline,

    Also get in touch with bat organisations; I am sure they will be interested to discover what species of bat you have and no doubt they will get themselves involved in the whole situation.
    See, some planners are green! 😛 (gotta do my part for the planners, sometimes! haha.)

    • Pauline says:

      Thank you so much for coming back to me Liz, I saw from your blog that you are a “green” planner, good for you ! Devon Wildlife Trust has a bat expert who is going to come and see us, but as you say, the more the merrier, and bat organisations know how to put the case better than we do, thanks for your help.

  7. Here if you are neighbours you have to be informed of any planning applications. They also go on the council web site. So many developers really push the limits nowadays, filling every available space with similar housing. Rarely taking the vernacular or the wildlife into consideration. I think it’s such a shame that you lost your school in the first place. You will let us know how it goes….

    • Pauline says:

      Yes Janet, we were informed in a letter by the council, that was the first we knew about the situation, we objected to the original plans for various reasons as well as the harm to wildlife. A second letter came from the council regarding new plans and it is these plans that we have just been objecting to, giving the same reason but stating all the laws which protect the dormice and bats. Don’t worry, I will certainly keep everyone up to date with any news, thank you so much for your concern.

  8. oh Pauline I do so feel for you and your village, you have done some good work so far, the stay of execution until spring gives you all time to get more help and info, Dormice are very protected as I understand it, I thought the wood was on your land or is this another area? Frances

    • Pauline says:

      Yes Frances, this is another area, the woodland strip is at the back by the road through the village but is joined to this hedge with its trees at the side of the house. Dormice are so well protected by law now and so is their habitat, thank goodness, so it is a question of waiting for a survey to be done in the spring I hope. Thanks for your concern Frances.

  9. Alberto says:

    This project of yours sounds pretty tough and I think it will be easily transformed in a fight. Unfortunately building companies are rather strong and most of times everything’s up to sensibility/interests of the Town Council. I just wonder why they build houses where it used to be a school… They should build another building (or convert the one they have) as another public utility infrastructure, could be a swimming pool, could be something for elderly, you said you run out of children but I bet you have plenty of elderly, haven’t you?

    Anyway I hope and wish you are going to win this little war, let us know how it develops!

    • Pauline says:

      I think I forgot to mention that the school building will be turned into one of the houses, with a massive extension, don’t know why it has to be bigger, and then 2 other houses are proposed. Love your idea of a swimming pool for us oldies and yes there are plenty of us ! Will keep you up to date with our progress, thanks for your support Alberto.

  10. wellywoman says:

    What a great post! You’re so lucky to have so much great wildlife in and near your garden and I can understand why you want to protect it. I went on a dormouse day with my local wildlife trust and got to see some and they are so lovely. It’s very important that they have wildlife corridors so they can move between different areas rather than living in isolated pockets which is now more common because of development. I wish you all the best in your campaign to protect these trees and habitat for the wildlife.

    • Pauline says:

      Thanks for your support Wellywoman, we hope,one day to go on a dormouse day with the Devon wildlife Trust. The first hibernation nest I found accidentaly while clearing the back of a border and the poor dormouse was still hibernating, still in its nest, it was gently returned and covered up once more, I have never tidied up the backs of borders again! I agree with you that it is so important to preserve corridors for them to travel between areas, hence our campaign.

  11. Dan@DWT says:

    Hi Pauline
    I feel like I know this story well after Charlie came back to the office and told me everything he’d learned when he met you on your doorstep.

    Just thought I’d add that one of the volunteers in Devon Wildlife Trust’s local group in Exeter has a lot of experience in dealing with protecting biodiversity from planning applications. Stephen mentioned that he’d be happy for us to pass on his email address in case you wanted advice on what to say to your local planning authority – Stephen’s email is

    Stephen said that the planning authority should be complying with PPS9 see paragraphs 98 – 99 page 33 especially, regarding European Protected Species

    And also that if it looks like they might be removing dormouse habitat it’s quite likely the works might be subject to a Natural England licence.

    Good luck with this!

    • Pauline says:

      Dan, thank you so much for leaving a message with all the relevant information for us. We will certainly get in touch with Stephen, the more information we have at our fingertips, the better. Many thanks, Pauline.

  12. Grace says:

    I urge you to contact Dr Bright of Royal Holloway University of London. He is an expert on dormice and he loves hedgerows too!

  13. Tim says:

    Hello Pauline, it always seems to be the way when it comes to new developments. They always want to construct a monstrous home(s) that barely fits on the property so there is less yard work to do for the prospective buyers. Since this post is a few months after your original writing has there been any updates?

    • Pauline says:

      Everything is quiet at the moment Tim, now that the council have been told that there are dormice and bats that are protected in the trees and hedges, nothing can be done until hibernation time is over, then it is a question of proving that they are there. Just a question of waiting until April/May when they decide to wake up!!

  14. Haley says:

    Recently discovered in conversation with an ex student that there is actally a covenant on the old school and its surrounding land that notes that it must remine as a school/place of education. So if you ask to see the old deeds might be a starting point of saving the place from being devloped into just more housing.

    • Pauline says:

      Thank you for your interest Haley, good to know someone else cares! Each time we have objected to the plans, that’s 3 times now, we have mentioned the covenant, amongst other things. It was a big issue at the time when the village school closed on the site 20 yrs ago and someone suggested it was turned into housing then. So far the developer doesn’t seem to have applied for change of use, but we are keeping a sharp eye on the situation. Thanks for your suggestion, will certainly bear it in mind if our other plans don’t come to anything.

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