The Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris is native to the UK, but they are a rare sight nowadays and this is due to the introduction of the Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis by the Victorians back in the 1800’s. The red squirrel is now only found in small areas in the UK, including Anglesey, parts of Northern England and Scotland. It is estimated the red squirrel will become extinct within the 10 years without any conservation management efforts.
Edge of Extinction
Red and grey squirrels cannot coexist in the same area. Grey’s are bigger than red’s and are far more successful when competing for food and habitat, which ultimately forces the red’s out of the area and into less suitable habitat. Grey’s also carry and transmit the Squirrelpox virus which is deadly to the red squirrel.
Habitat destruction has also reduced habitat suitable for red’s creating unsustainable populations with limited resources.
Why are Red Squirrels important?
Red squirrels are ecologically important for the coniferous woodlands that they are found in. They are specially adapted to feeding on the seeds of coniferous trees, and are probably the biggest seed disperser for these trees. Red’s are therefore a key player in the regeneration of coniferous woodlands. These coniferous woodlands are also favoured by other native and endangered species including the Scottish Wildcat and Pine Marten, and are therefore part of a very important ecosystem.
What’s the plan?
There are several organisations working to conserve red squirrels in local areas. Arnside and Silverdale Red Squirrel Initiative started back in 2015 and seeks to restore the red squirrel population in this area. The group has received considerable local community and corporate support which has led to sustained management across the area, significantly reducing the impact of grey squirrels on trees and other wildlife. The latest phase of the project will focus on a grey squirrel fertility control research programme commissioned by the UK Squirrel Accord, working with the Animal and Plant Health Agency and the University of Cumbria. Ultimately, the aim is to restore a thriving red squirrel population either through natural processes or if conditions allow, reintroductions.
Wild Discovery are currently supporting the initiative by raising awareness of red squirrels and the fight for survival it faces. We have also provided some camera traps to help the volunteers assess population sizes in the area and monitor feeding stations.
How can you help?
You can help by spreading the word about this species and the extinction crisis that it is facing. More people that know the reasons why the species are facing extinction the more we can do to help save the species.
You could also buy one of our #wildconservation wristbands from the gift shop, 100% of the proceeds go directly to the conservation projects that Wild Discovery supports.
Or you can make a donation in the conservation projects box situated in the Gift Shop. For larger donations please contact the Zoo Director at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the Red Squirrel Iniatitive please visit this website Arnside and Silverdale Red Squirrel Initiative (westmorlandredsquirrels.org.uk)