30 Days Wild 2019 – Day Seventeen.

twt-30-days-wild_countdown_17Day 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.

maps working version of comparison

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
  • disease

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!

Christine x


Further reading:

The Wildlife Trusts:

The Wildlife Trusts saving species:

The Wildlife Trusts’ Projects:

The Woodland Trust:

Red Squirrel Survival Trust

Trees for Life

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Contrasting Weather at Formby

squirrel

Photo by David Evans

The May bank holiday dawned like previous bank holidays, cold and dreary. We had decided that whatever the weather we would try and get out of the house, even if it was just for a little while.

So on Monday we drove the 45 minutes to Formby Point under a grey leaden sky. We arrived just before 10am, paid the £5.70 parking fee and stepped out of the car to go in search of red squirrels. While traversing the 1/2 mile circular walk under a canopy of pine trees the rain started to fall heavily!

mapRedSquirrelWalk

We watched while getting soaked, several red squirrels gather monkey nuts, shred the shells with their teeth and quickly devour their nuts. The squirrels didn’t seem to mind the rain unlike David and I who tried to keep the rainwater from damaging our cameras.

I read later that the red squirrel is native to Britain, but due to competition for food with grey squirrels and diseases their future has become less certain. There is estimated to be only 140,000 red squirrels left in Britain, mostly found now in small conservation areas in the north of England and Scotland. Red squirrels are arboreal (live in trees) and are diurnal (active during the day), though they are more active several hours after dawn and before dusk. They are mostly solitary and live in dreys, similar to birds nests. Red squirrels also do not hibernate and prefer forests of pine.

After spending an hour or so with the squirrels we decided to walk towards the beach (Cornerstone walk). We went past some wind bent trees as the rain started to wane. The sand dunes looked bleak in the overcast weather and the contrast between beach and forest was striking.

As we made our way back to the car for our packed lunch we wandered off the track and followed another path, (Asparagus trail) that lead us back towards the beach. By this time the clouds were dispersing from the coast and radiant blue sky was bringing everything into colour. So David and I walked back towards the beach. The difference in weather could not be more contrasting!

I am glad that we persevered with the dreich weather, a glorious afternoon of blue skies was our reward. I really enjoyed getting out of the house, even if we were drenched at the beginning of the day, there were many smiles as the sun broke through the clouds. We stayed at Formby Point for four hours. A whole day could be well spent there. We look forward to visiting again in the summer but will arrive early as the queue at the entrance as we left was growing!

Did you get up to anything over the spring bank holiday? Been to the beach recently?

Christine x

Information about red squirrels taken from: