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You are in: Tyne > Saving Planet Earth > Save our Squirrels

Red squirrel on tree. Photo: Allan Potts and SoS

Red squirrels are under threat

Save our Squirrels

A project based in Newcastle is working hard to save the dwindling population of red squirrels in the North of England...

The plight of endangered species like tigers and orang-utans is well publicised but there are also many animals under threat closer to home – and many dedicated people working hard to protect them and their habitats.

One such species is the red squirrel, which has declined massively since the introduction of the grey squirrel into the country from America in the late-19th Century.

Under threat

Over the last 130 years, the red squirrel population in the UK has dropped from approximately 3.5 million to just 160,000 – mainly due to competition from, and disease carried by, the greys.

Now a project has been set up to try to protect the "last bastion" of squirrels in the North of England.

Red squirrel feeding. Photo: Allan Potts and SoS

Around 160,000 are left in the UK

Save our Squirrels (SoS) - which has its headquarters in Gosforth - was set up in 2006 by Red Alert North England, a group of interested public and private sector groups including the Forestry Commission and Natural England.

It is managed by Northumberland Wildlife Trust and is the largest single-species conservation project in the UK at the moment and its seven staff cover a huge patch, ranging from Berwick-upon-Tweed across to the Solway Firth, and down to Merseyside.

"The three main aims of the project are conserving the red squirrel for the long term; enabling people from all walks of life to find out about the red squirrel, and sustaining the project for the long term," says Philippa Mitchell, SoS's people and wildlife officer.

"Our primary focus is on 16 reserve areas. These have been identified as the places where red squirrels have the best chance of survival in the long term. We work also within an approximate 5km buffer zone around them."

Natural protection

In Northumberland there are nine reserves, from Kyloe in the north to Slaley in the south, and in the west one of the most well known, Kielder.

Mark Wilkinson working with children. Photo: SoS

Mark Wilkinson, conservation officer

The areas designated as reserves are primarily conifer forests - a habitat which favours the red over the grey squirrel.

"In the conifer forests you've got small seeds available and they don't have a very high calorific value," explains Mark Wilkinson, SoS conservation officer for Northumberland.

"The reds can survive alright on them whereas the greys really find it difficult to gain enough energy. So it gives a bit of natural protection so that you don't just have to rely on grey control. Then the buffer zones around these areas allow us to target grey control so we get the best use of resources to directly benefit the reds in the forests." 

SoS only advocate control of grey squirrels where it will have a positive impact on the conservation of red squirrels and use only methods of trapping and killing approved by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare.

Volunteers

SoS work closely with landowners and volunteers to advocate the control of grey squirrel populations in the buffer zones, record squirrel sightings and monitor red squirrel populations in the reserves.

Save our Squirrels team. Photo: SoS

The Save Our Squirrels team

"One of the things we are looking to do is set up local groups [in each area]," says Philippa.

"They can do things like repeated surveys in the woodlands - finding out where the reds are still surviving and where the main corridors of grey squirrels moving in are."

The hope is that some of these groups may eventually be able to secure their own funding, so that should the SoS project not continue (it is currently funded for just three years) there will still be a network of people to continue their good work.

You can find out more about the Save our Squirrels project on their website:

Get involved

There are also numerous ways you can get involved with the project. Click on NEXT to find out how…

last updated: 15/04/2008 at 08:47
created: 31/05/2007

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