Go nuts for the native nutkin and get ‘reddy’ for Red Squirrel Week
Friday 27th September 2013
Red squirrel cpt A Mason
Radiant redheads are only found in certain areas of the UK, which is why The Wildlife Trusts are encouraging everyone to help protect them during Red Squirrel Week (Sat 28 Sept – Sun 6 Oct).
With distinctive russet fur, tufted ears and twitching tail, a red squirrel is a captivating sight. Autumn is a great time to see them as they forage nuts to cache for the winter months. Tune into the sights and sounds of the woodland and forest, listen for the chattering call, and look out for the gnawed husks of cones – watch out for them raining down from above!
Once common, red squirrels have declined rapidly since the 1950s. Numbers in the UK have fallen from around 3.5 million, to a current estimated population of around 120,000, of which 75% or more are in Scotland.
With distinctive russet fur, tufted ears and twitching tail, a red squirrel is a captivating sight
Red squirrels continue to be in serious decline due to disease, the loss and fragmentation of woodland habitat and competition from the more robust grey squirrel. There are only a handful of refuges left for red squirrels in the UK.
Strongholds are Scotland, the Lake District and Northumberland with some isolated, remnant populations further south in both England and Wales including Anglesey, Formby in Lancashire, Brownsea Island in Dorset and the Isle of Wight.
The Wildlife Trusts in Northern England and Scotland have been involved in major efforts to assess red squirrel populations to help to determine strategies for securing the survival of this threatened species.
Last spring over 1,200 hours of work by volunteers and staff from the Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE) conservation partnership, including Cumbria, Northumberland, Lancashire, Durham and Yorkshire Wildlife Trusts created an up-to-date picture of the red squirrels’ current geographical range across northern England. Over 17 large forests have been identified as red squirrel strongholds and these areas represent a landscape-scale approach to conserving the red squirrel in this region.
Last spring also saw the completion of the Red Squirrels in South Scotland project. Over the last eight years this project established an extensive network of foresters, local enthusiasts, agencies, communities and farmers. 24 Red Squirrel Priority Woodlands were selected to provide refuge areas for red squirrels.
Scottish Wildlife Trust is now leading the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project which is co-ordinating national efforts to conserve red squirrels. Conservation efforts include establishing buffer areas around the strongholds with control of grey squirrels, ongoing monitoring, helping landowners to improve habitat for squirrels, involving local schools and communities and using forest planning to maximise the value of forests for squirrels.
What you can do
Report sightings: Find out what is being done to help protect the red squirrel, as it faces challenges such the squirrelpox virus, or help gather results for Red Squirrels Northern England and Scottish Wildlife Trust
Adopt a red squirrel: Money raised goes to help local wildlife conservation work such as managing nature reserves and creating new wildlife habitat.
Red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris)
The plight of the red squirrel is now recognised in local, regional, national and international conservation policies – it is featured in the Bern Convention, it is a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) and the red squirrel is afforded the highest level of protection under UK law, the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
Red squirrels are not always red. They can be brown, almost black, or even quite grey, and can become blonde due to bleaching by the summer sunlight. In winter, they have noticeable ear tufts.
Red squirrels are able to live in any type of woodland but in the UK they are now mostly confined to conifer forests where they have a competitive advantage over the larger greys. They do not hibernate. They bury nuts to help provide food in the winter to supplement the year round supply of conifer seeds in mixed broadleaf and coniferous woodland. Red squirrels build nests, called dreys, from sticks and moss placed high in the branches, where they produce two litters of three to four kittens a year. The drey is often the first evidence of the presence of red squirrels in a wood. Red squirrels can live for up to six years.