Vital conservation work is protecting our red squirrels
The native red squirrel is facing various threats from disease, loss of woodland habitat and not least from the non-native, invasive grey squirrel. But thanks to the help of our members and supporters, vital conservation work is already showing signs of success.
Red squirrels have been having a tough time. 'Over the last few hundred years numbers have been going down,' says our head of nature conservation, Dr David J. Bullock.
Besides disease and loss of woodland habitat, the introduction of non-native grey squirrels in the 19th century has led to them replacing the native red squirrel throughout much of southern England and Wales.
'We are not sure how, but competition for food with greys and direct aggression are certainly factors,' says Bullock.
Greys also carry Squirrel Pox Virus (SQPV) and while they are mostly immune, reds have little or no immunity and can suffer badly when exposed.
A recent outbreak of SQPV at our Red Squirrel Reserve at Formby Point led to the death of 70 per cent of the squirrels living there.
'Thankfully, the population has now recovered and there is also evidence that at least some of the red squirrels there have developed some immunity to SQPV,' says Bullock.
'Our staff and volunteers, together with many people in local communities, keep a sharp eye out for grey squirrels that might be trying to enter the Red Squirrel Reserve and, where possible, they are removed.'
Our policy on red squirrels is simple. We act to conserve this beautiful, native and iconic red squirrel on our land in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
'This involves a combination of evidence-based conservation management, and support for relevant research into its ecology and behaviour, as well as the impact of grey squirrels and disease,' says Bullock.
'We are working to keep islands such as Brownsea Island, and core red squirrel areas in the north of England free of non-native grey squirrels.'
There is also a dedicated squirrel ranger on our property at Wallington, Northumberland.
'In the Lake District and throughout the north of England we are working closely with local squirrel groups,' says Bullock. 'We remove greys where they threaten reds.'
This conservation work is paying off and things are already looking up for Britain’s red squirrels.
Anglesey is now grey squirrel free and reds are thriving thanks to a concerted effort from the Friends of the Red Squirrels of Anglesey and the Red Squirrel Survival Trust.
Elsewhere, red squirrels themselves seem to be fighting back. At a National Trust reserve in Fornby, Merseyside, they have shown signs of developing resistance to SQPV, which they could potentially pass on to future generations, according to research by the University of Liverpool.
With your help we can do more to help red squirrels thrive across Britain.