Camouflaged bridge near Tunbridge Wells proves crucial for wildlife

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The ingenious camouflaging of a bridge to fit in with its rural surroundings has been so convincing a family of rare dormice have set up home there.

The road to the Scotney Castle estate goes over the A21 near Tunbridge Wells, and drivers are often not even aware they are on a bridge at all.

It was built wider than necessary, and the extra space has been taken up with plantlife designed to blend in with the countryside.

Rangers and volunteers working on the National Trust’s wildlife conservation programme at the site spotted the tiny creatures and realised the experimental bridge had succeeded.

The female and her babies took up residence on what is Britain’s first wildlife land-bridge. It was intended to provide a corridor between areas of woodland divided by the A21.

The pioneering design maintains a link across the dual carriageway between dormouse communities and their habitat. Planted along its length are trees and shrubs, so the bridge provides food and shelter for dormice that colonise the estate woodlands on either side.

Muscardinus avellanarius, more commonly known as the hazel dormouse is an internationally protected species. Formerly widespread throughout the UK, its numbers have dwindled as a result of loss of habitat and it is now at risk of extinction, save for a few remaining strongholds in the South East. Ongoing management by the Trust at Scotney Castle has helped to maintain a well established population on the estate.

Head ranger, Ross Wingfield said: “I think that it’s great that in such a short period of time the wildlife at Scotney Castle and its surroundings is comfortable using the land-bridge.

“This really is a major success. We have also seen on the bridge some deer, shrews and badgers.”

Britain’s foremost authority on dormice, Dr Pat Morris, said: “This is proof that making wildlife-friendly adjustments to bridges does actually work. Eight mammal species [including wood-mouse, common shrew and a tunnelling mole] now use it and the bridge also offers a tranquil and safe way for visitors to approach the Scotney Estate across a busy main road.”

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