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Map of the Week: Squirrel Nutkin

Mark Easton | 15:56 UK time, Monday, 2 March 2009

I fear I have been very remiss with my Map of the Week feature. In danger of heading for ignominious "Map of the, er... Month" territory, I have knocked up one of my own in the hope that this might temporarily assuage the cravings of any cartophiles out there.

Red squirrelRegular readers will know that I recently spent a week in the Lake District. While out walking with my family on the banks of Buttermere, my daughter pointed out a red squirrel. This was shortly having visited Beatrix Potter's cottage and I was dubious at first. But sure enough, there looking at us from a dry-stone wall was Squirrel Nutkin himself. I had never seen a red before and was enchanted as the creature calmly trotted along the coping stones and off into the woods. They have a reputation for timidity, but this chap seemed entirely unmoved by our presence.
I wanted to find out how unusual such a sighting is these days and headed for the excellent NBN Gateway.

This site allows you to make your own maps charting the biodiversity of Britain. Thousands of plants, fungi and invertebrates, hundreds of birds and fishes, scores of mammals, 17 reptiles, 13 amphibians and one simple organism (the protozoa) are on the giant database.

I selected Eurasian Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) and clicked through to the section which allows you to put your map together. This is the result of my efforts:

10km distribution scriurus vulgaris in Great Britain and Ireland

Squirral map.  © Crown copyright.  All rights reserved NERC 100017897 2004

I was then able to zoom in to Cumbria (although the county system still refers to it as Cumberland).

2km distribution of sciurus vulgaris in Cumberland
Squirral map.  © Crown Copyright. All rights reserved NERC 100017897 2004

My squirrel appears to have been closest to the lower of the two dark green squares, but I suspect that the map needs some updating given the work of the Save our Squirrels project - the largest single-species conservation project taking place in the UK at present.

Launched in July 2006, the project has the remit to deliver red squirrel conservation, information, and access projects in Northumberland, Cumbria, North Yorkshire, and North Merseyside.

Here is where SoS is working to save the red, including sanctuaries in large parts of the Lake District National Park.

Produced by cartographic & geographic information services Forestry Commission, national office for England, Cambridge. © Crown Copyright. All rights reserved forestry Commission 100025498 2006

Scotland also has a huge project aimed at supporting and encouraging the red squirrel.

Wales has a very successful project on Anglesey, where conservationists have eradicated the grey from the island and have reintroduced the red. There are now thriving communities of red squirrels, although occasionally a grey does make it across the bridge, apparently.

Given that even I can manage to put together a biodiversity map, I wondered whether I could issue a challenge. I would like to see who can produce the best map showing the changing biodiversity of Britain using the NBN Gateway. Post the URL of the page of your completed table as a comment (using a service like or TinyURL to deal with those very long addresses!). The best ones will feature as a Map of the Week.


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