Posted 3rd Oct 2014
This week is Red Squirrel Week, highlighting the plight of our native species. We look at the threats they face and what is being done to help them
Once found all over the UK, however now with only a small number surviving in select regions, the native red squirrel is likely to be extinct in England within the next 10 years, according to the Red Squirrel Survival Trust.
The growing threats to red squirrels mean that there are only 140,000 left in the UK, with the largest number populating areas of Scotland, where 75 per cent of these vibrant creatures live. Other areas they can be seen include Cumbria, Formby, The Isle of Wight and Brownesea Island.
Overrun with the non-native grey squirrels brought to this country and introduced across the mainland, the greys originate from North America and are one of the biggest threats to the survival of reds. However, other factors such as predators are also of a concern to the organisations aiming to protect the red population. The Red Squirrel Survival Trust and the RSPB have set their priority on the conservation of red squirrels, who are currently out numbered by millions of grey squirrels, with a population of 2.5 million.
The decline in native squirrels has not gone unnoticed and the RSPB has become a member of Scottish Squirrel Group which aims to protect red strongholds in Scotland, as well as sympathetically looking after their nature reserves to aid the struggles of squirrels. Management of the RSPB nature reserves sees them maintain the strong population of reds in areas where they currently inhabit, and monitor the migration of greys into highly populated red sectors, including South Scotland. Not to mention the RSPB is also part of the Project Advisory Board of Red Squirrel Northern England, a project established to help the key populations of red squirrels in strongholds, while planting new woodlands that solely benefit red population growth.
Unfortunately, control methods put in place to protect red squirrels from greys have proven futile according to the RSPB, however its highest priority is the conservation of reds as our native species. The RSPB take the necessary measures to protect the reds in areas they may run into greys and where greys may use areas currently inhabited by reds to travel to more hospitable locations.
Other organisations, such as the Forestry Commission, are working in partnership with several other red squirrel conservationists in order to develop a long-term strategy to deter grey squirrels and encourage the development of reds in the UK.
Predators on the other hand, are another problem hindering the life span and population of the red squirrel as large birds of prey, such as goshawks, as well as pine martens, are targeting squirrels where they can, effecting the already dwindling population, while it is reported that only 20 to 50 per cent of squirrel young, called kittens, make it to adulthood. Meaning that prioritising the maintenance of habitats favoured by reds is key to their survival.
With organisations such as the Red Squirrel Survival Trust working tirelessly to ensure the protection and to raise awareness of the plight of red squirrels, help for this innocent wildlife is ever present, in the hopes that their efforts see reds live beyond the estimated 10 years left on native soil.
By Lauren Morton
Images courtesy of RSPB