Formby's red squirrel population recovering

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Red squirrels are now on the road to recovery © National Trust

Red squirrels are now on the road to recovery

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Latest update 25.11.2013 09:13

A study by the University of Liverpool has found that the red squirrel population along the Sefton coastline appears to be recovering from a serious outbreak of squirrel pox in 2008.

Our researchers, in collaboration with the University of Liverpool and the Lancashire Wildlife Trust have been monitoring the red squirrel population along this stretch of Lancashire coast, since the outbreak which resulted in a 90 per cent fall in the red squirrel population.

What is squirrel pox?
Squirrel pox is a potentially fatal disease which affects red squirrel populations in some areas and is thought that to be a significant factor in the decline of the red squirrel population in the UK. The virus is often carried by grey squirrels from North America, which rarely die from the disease as their population has developed immunity having been exposed to the virus for many years.

A positive outlook
Dr Julian Chantrey, from the University’s Institute of Integrative Biology, said: 'We have had a unique opportunity to study the dynamics of the squirrel pox disease. So far, our findings indicate that they are recovering from the disease which affected them so severely in 2008.'

'There are even indications that a few of the surviving squirrels appear to have antibody to the virus, which would suggest that they have recovered from infection in the past. More recently, we have identified a red squirrel that recovered naturally from squirrel pox and was released back into the population. However, at this stage, there is insufficient evidence to say whether there is significant resistance in the population as a whole to prevent another pox outbreak.'

Andrew Brockbank, our countryside manager for Formby, said: 'Red squirrels would feature on many people’s list of favourite British wildlife and it’s been a huge relief to see the numbers recovering at Formby in the last five years after the 2007/2008 crash.

'Whether red squirrels have any long term immunity or not remains to be seen. But the recovery of the population and the findings of the research give us hope that red squirrels have a better chance of survival than we had thought possible just a few years ago.'

Numbers of red squirrels at Formby have recovered well in the last few years and they are up to around 50 per cent of the total found here before the crash.

Funding for the research has been provided by the Natural Environment Research Council. Further financial support has come through money raised from virtual gifts in the 2007 National Trust Christmas catalogue specifically for red squirrel conservation at Formby.

Did you know?
Once found throughout most of the UK, the distribution of red squirrels has declined dramatically in the last 100 years with the break-up of their woodland habitats and the spread of the larger, more dominant North American grey squirrel. As a result, red squirrels have only a few remaining habitats.

Our red squirrel sites are becoming increasingly important havens. You can see squirrels at:

In 2005, Formby and the Sefton coast woodlands became part of the third national red squirrel refuge.