Red Squirrels at Formby
Red Squirrels were once a common sight across the UK but, since the introduction of the North American Grey Squirrel in the 19th Century, their numbers have declined. Formby and the Sefton Coast is one of the few places in England where Red Squirrels have survived and sightings of this charming little animal provide joy to local residents and visitors alike.
Reds v Greys
It is a common misconception that Grey Squirrels physically attack Red Squirrels and this has caused the decline of the Reds but the truth is a bit more complex. One of the issues is competition for food, Grey Squirrels are more efficient at feeding in broadleaf woodlands than Reds and being bigger they eat more which reduces the food available to the Reds. Another benefit of being bigger is that the Greys can store more fat in their bodies which gives them a better chance of surviving through the cold winter months. Space is also an issue in the battle between Red and Grey Squirrels as Grey Squirrels can live in a much higher density than Red Squirrels thereby effectively “pushing” the Reds out of an area.
However, perhaps the most devastating impact that Grey Squirrels have had is the introduction of the Squirrel Pox virus. Grey Squirrels appear to have a natural immunity to this disease but they can be carriers. If infected Grey Squirrels live alongside Red Squirrels then the disease can be passed between the species. Once in the Red Squirrel population this disease can have a catastrophic effect with an almost 100% mortality rate in the infected animals.
Sefton Coast – a Red Squirrel Stronghold
Red Squirrels Northern England has classified Formby and the wider Sefton Coast as one of the 17 Red Squirrel strongholds in the North of England. The plantation conifer woodlands here make a good habitat for the native Reds as they like to feed on the seeds found in the pine cones. As the pine cones tend to grow near the end of the branches Grey Squirrels struggle to get to them, because of their heavier weight, making this area less attractive for this species to live in.
National Trust works with a number of partners as part of the Merseyside Red Squirrel Project in order to conserve this much loved species within the local area. Lancashire Wildlife Trust are the co-ordinators of this project. Their staff and volunteers undertake a wide variety of work including Spring and Autumn monitoring, Grey Squirrel control and engaging with the public and local community to spread the word about Red Squirrel conservation. For more information about Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s work for Red Squirrel conservation click here.
Here at National Trust Formby, we no longer supplement the squirrels’ natural diet and we ask that visitors do not feed the red squirrels also. We understand that many people who visit Formby come for a chance of seeing the red squirrels however feeding them can cause a few problems. When hand feeding we can pass on bacteria from our skin which is not harmful to us but can be harmful to the red squirrels. Feeding also concentrates the squirrels into one area, increasing the chance of spreading diseases such as the squirrel pox. Lastly red squirrels are wild animals that need to be able to forage for their own food, feeding could cause them to become too reliant on food brought by visitors and not able to find their own food sources.
If you see a Grey Squirrel or a sick, injured or dead Red Squirrel within the Sefton area then please contact Lancashire Wildlife Trust.