Day 17: Following on from last week’s Close Up Monday, today’s focus is on the red squirrel.
I am very lucky to live within an hours drive from Formby, which is a stronghold of the red squirrels. Disease and the introduction of the American grey squirrel in the 19th Century has impacted greatly on red squirrel numbers.
Red squirrels, a mammal, are native to the UK and classed regionally as endangered. Though red squirrels can be found in other European countries. Their population in the UK is estimated at approx. 140,000 which is quite shocking given that the figure of the grey squirrel as 2.5 million.
The reason for this disparity is obvious when you see both species side by side. Whereas the red squirrel is small and dainty the grey is larger in body.
The two main competitions are:
Food: The grey squirrel being larger has show to eat more and also to be more successful at foraging. Whereas the red has been left behind and is often pushed out of an area due to the competition for food.
Disease: grey squirrels seem to have a natural immunity to squirrel pox than reds. Pox to the red squirrels has a 100% mortality rate, which is catastrophic to any resident population. According to The Wildlife Trusts, there is currently an outbreak of squirrel pox at Formby, but hopefully it won’t be as devastating to the population as the 2008 pox outbreak when 80% of Merseyside and Lancashire’s red squirrels were wiped out!
Habitat loss is also a contributing factor to the decline of the red squirrel.
Red squirrels are found in the North of England and Scotland. They prefer to live in coniferous forests and nest in dreys. They can have up to two litters a year, with 2-3 kittens per litter. Their diet consists of hazelnuts and pine cones but occasionally they eat small birds and eggs. Like the grey squirrel they do not hibernate.
There are a number of projects currently running to help sustain red squirrel numbers: Red Squirrels United is a partnership with The Wildlife Trusts, academics and volunteers and funded by the EU and The National Lottery to create a scientifically robust conservation programme. In turn Red Squirrels United are working closely with Saving Scotland’s RED Squirrels, who work with local communities to preserve this iconic UK animal. Red Squirrel Survival Trust is an entirely donation run initiative created to spread awareness to the plight of the red squirrel.
What is your stance on the red vs grey squirrel argument? Do you ever see a time when both can coexist in the UK?
Thanks for reading, and stay wild!
The Wildlife Trusts saving species:
The Wildlife Trusts’ Projects: