Status and conservation of the common dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) in the Province of Limburg (Flanders, Belgium)
The common dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) is a protected species in Flanders and is suspected to be severely threatened. Since there was insufficient knowledge on the status of the common dormouse in Flanders to propose and implement suitable protection measures, the Mammal Working Group of Natuurpunt started a census in the Flemish Province of Limburg in 2003. Historical data were collected and verified and a large number of forests were searched for signs of common dormouse presence: nests and eaten hazelnuts. In one forest nest boxes and tubes were set up. The new data indicate that the distribution of the common dormouse in the Province of Limburg is currently limited to the region of Voeren. Here signs of its presence were found in five forests, all at least partly forest reserves. In the other two Limburg regions with historical data, Hasselt and Tongeren, no indication of dormouse presence was found. As the Flemish common dormouse population appears to be on the verge of extinction, immediate action is required to save the last of them. Therefore, a complete mapping of distribution and a Population Viability Analysis were not waited for. Based on recent common dormouse observations and expert knowledge, concrete protection measures to improve habitat quality and connectivity are advised. A preliminary management plan for the development of the common dormouse metapopulation in the region of Voeren is proposed.