Red Squirrels Need You!

Red squirrels are one of our most charismatic mammals and are originally a resident 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. In recent times, red squirrel populations have been reduced as forests have been felled, losing the essential habitat they require to feed and breed. A more serious threat to their status was the introduction of the grey squirrel into Ireland in 1911. The grey squirrel has out-competed the native red in deciduous woodland; it is larger requiring more calories daily and it can also eat unripe seeds, it’s more successful in breeding and as if this isn’t enough, it can also be a carrier of a pox virus fatal to the native species, if transmitted!

While the plight of this native mammal is serious, there are some positives to report. Conifer forests have become refuges for red squirrels across Northern Ireland, because they are less favoured by grey squirrels. Our red squirrel feeds on the seeds of Norway spruce, lodgepole pine, larch and Scots pine. The species has also been selected as a Northern Ireland Priority Species, focusing the attention of conservation organisations and interested groups and individuals. The Northern Ireland Squirrel Forum has been established to co-ordinate and advise on the various activities and research occuring across the region.

Red squirrel facts: They do not hibernate over winter. They store nuts in the ground in the Autumn. They can live to 6 years of age. The young are called kittens. Their homes care called dreys and are made of twigs, leaves and moss and are built in a tree. They can swim.

An outcome of this has been the identification of hotspots or Red Squirrel Preferred Areas. Of the seven or so areas in Northern Ireland, two occur in Co. Fermanagh – in the Slieve Beagh Area in East Fermanagh and in West Fermanagh forests extending from Lough Navar to Belmore.

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 organised themselves and are making a difference in their own areas although there are none yet in Fermanagh. There are a number of ways you can help with red squirrel conservation including:

Red squirrel sightings: To conserve red squirrels, we need to know where they are! Sightings help us build a picture of their distribution and density which is essential for targeting conservation action. Sightings 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.

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 http://www.nienvironment.

Red Squirrel Interested Parties Meeting: A meeting will be held for those interested in finding out more about red squirrel conservation in Fermanagh in the Townhall, Enniskillen at 7.00pm on Tuesday 8th February 2011. For more information or to register your interest, please contact Rose Cremin, Tel: 028 6632 5050 or email: [email protected]

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