Squirrel Facts


The red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is native to the UK and Ireland. Approximately 10,000 years ago the Ice Age ended and the resulting climatic amelioration led to the spread of large woodlands across the whole of Ireland. It is estimated that 80% of the land surface was covered. This led to vast areas of suitable habitat for the red squirrel to seek food and shelter. The first threat to the existence of the red squirrel emerged with the arrival of Neolithic settlers approximately 6,000 years ago. In their attempt to farm the land, large swathes of forest were cut down. After generations of farming practices little of these once enormous forests remain. Consequently, the habitat of the red squirrel has become seriously depleted and fragmented.

In Ireland and Fermanagh a new threat emerged with the appearance of the non-native North-American grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). In 1911 six pairs of grey squirrelswere released at Castle Forbes in County Longford. The first grey squirrel was spotted in Fermanagh in a forest near Belleek in 1946. The grey squirrels released have now colonized most of Ireland in 100 years. The grey squirrels have similar dietary and habitat requirements as the smaller red squirrel. The grey squirrel can out-compete the red squirrel in broadleaved woods and it is forcing red squirrel into coniferous plantations where they feed on spruce cones. 15 years after the grey squirrel arrives in an area, the red squirrel population will have disappeared. However, this can be reversed through conservation methods, e.g. grey squirrel control.

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