Great Local Interest in Red Squirrel Populations

Over 40 people attended a recent meeting, organised through the Local Biodiversity Action Planning process, on the subject of red squirrel conservation.

Representatives from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Forest Service and the National Trust explained the work they undertake for the species and options for protecting our local populations. Some important messages were communicated such as the threat from grey squirrels and the importance of local action to supplement the work of the agencies.

A second meeting will be held this month to gather information on the type of activities that people wish to get involved in. This can range from feeding red squirrels, participating in training and surveying for the species and grey squirrel monitoring and management. There may be clusters of people living around a particular Forest with a red squirrel population, who may form a local action group.

Red squirrels have become a focus of conservation organisations and concerned individuals as their populations and distribution have shrunk. A combination of factors have lead to this decline although the introduction of the grey squirrel is the main culprit. The grey squirrel is out-competing our native squirrel – in foraging, breeding and its resistence to disease such as the pox virus.

Red squirrels are one of our most charismatic mammals and are originally residents of our native broadleaved woodlands but more recently have established conifer forests as their strongholds. The red squirrel’s diet consists of a variety of seeds and nuts, shoots of young plants and spring blossoms. During winter months, particularly later in the season, they will rely on food they stored during the more bountiful autumn months.

Conserving the species for future generations to enjoy will be a challenge but they most certainly warrant the effort! A few Red Squirrel Groups have formed across Northern Ireland and we are hoping that we can replicate some of the good work that they are doing. If you are unable to attend the meeting or join the group, there are still a number of things that you can do to assist with red squirrel conservation.

Red squirrel sightings

To conserve red squirrels, we need to know where they are! Sightings are vital to help us establish where red squirrel populations are and hopefully undertake some measures to help protect them. A sighting record should include the following information: date, location, grid reference if possible, name of recorder, contact details/phone number and other info such as context of the sighting. It is also useful to know if you see any red squirrel road kill. In addition to these records, we are also interested to hear of grey squirrel sightings to help us establish where they have spread to.

Feeding squirrels

If you want to feed red squirrels that visit your garden then you must follow best-practice to keep them healthy and safe. The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) has produced an excellent information sheet on topics such as what to feed them, where to site a feeding station and feeder station hygiene. A copy can be downloaded

The date for the second red squirrel meeting has been set for Wednesday 23rd March 2011 at 7pm in the Townhall, Enniskillen. For more information or to confirm your attendance, please contact Rose Cremin, tel: 028 6632 5050 or email: [email protected]

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