The new ‘dormouse bridge’ will be the first of its kind on the railway when it’s built next summer.

The project is being carried out by Network Rail and wildlife charity People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) to increase dormice numbers.

Wild hazel dormice numbers have declined by 51% in England since 2000. A project is under way with the aim of tackling the decline by establishing new populations in Lancashire, but the selected sites are currently separated by the rail route in the Morecambe Bay area. The new mouse-sized climbing frame over tracks will connect populations, encouraging them to find food, look for a new mate or find better nesting sites in the Arnside & Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Dormouse and the Animex bridge

Above: Dormouse close-up by Clare Pengelly; bridge by Animex

The US$106,000 conservation project is being part funded by Network Rail with the remainder of the money coming from donations to PTES.

It involves fitting a 12-metre-long shielded tree-top structure to provide protection from predators on the side of an existing railway overbridge.

Network Rail teams are currently working with the ‘dormouse bridge’ manufacturer Animex on the best way to attach it.

Ecologists are also looking at how to improve the railway embankment to encourage dormice to use the new bridge to safely move from one side of the railway to the other.

Rory Kingdon, senior sponsor from Network Rail, said: “We’re delighted to be contributing £40,000 [US$53,000] to this dormouse bridge over the Furness line to encourage the breeding of hazel dormice populations in danger of extinction, so they have a fighting chance to thrive for generations to come.

“Network Rail is committed to improve biodiversity and protect habitats for the future. In fact, this work directly aligns to a major aim of the recent COP26 summit in Glasgow - to protect the natural environment and contribute to the conservation of nature.”

Ian White, dormouse and training officer at PTES, said: “This year dormice made a welcome return to Lancashire when we reintroduced 30 individuals to the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This new population has got off to an excellent start as we know at least twelve litters were born this year.

“PTES’ annual reintroduction brings dormice back into areas where they once lived, and we hope that this new bridge will enable two neighbouring populations to create a local metapopulation in the area, which will really to help bring this rare and beautiful species back from the brink.”