Within Northern Ireland there are numerous threats to the red squirrel. The sources of these threats can either be natural or a result of human activities. Within Northern Ireland there are essentially four primary threats to the red squirrel population.

  1. Grey Squirrel
  2. Habitat Loss
  3. Squirrel Pox
  4. Road Kill and Predation

Grey Squirrel

The grey squirrel is larger and more robust than the native red squirrel. It out-competes the red on many levels from its tolerance to unripen nuts and larger appetite as well as the fact that it breeds more frequently and has larger litters. The grey squirrel’s reproductive capactiy continues to increase its populations, pushing out the native red squirrel from its preferred habitiat of broadleaved woodland to conifer forests which now function as their refuge.

Habitat Loss

Prior to the introduction of the grey squirrel in the early 1900’s, habitat loss through the clearance of woodland for agricultural development or harvesting for fuel or industry, would have been the main cause of the decline of the fortunes for the red squirrel. The red squirrel is an arboreal species and must have woodland in order to survive. The degradation and fragmentation of habitats in recent centuries have had a significant impact on their populations and distribution.


Squirrel pox virus is now the single, most deadly threat to the survival of the red squirrel. The grey squirrel is a carrier of the pox virus which is transmitted to the red squirrel through body secretions such as saliva and scent secretions (see area ‘Pox Virus’ under Squirrel Facts). A second disease, the Adendovirus is also a cause of concern for the Red Squirrel although is not as virulent.


The red squirrel is a prey species for a number of wild animals including the pine marten and the fox. Interestingly, the pine marten, also a protected species, is showing an increase in its populations and there is a growing opinion that this can be linked to their predation on the grey squirrel: a positive for red squirrel conservation in Fermanagh where pine marten numbers are quite good. Closer to home, the domestic cat can also target red squirrels so if they do visit your garden, we would strongly recommend putting a bell on your cat – reports of cat kill are too common.

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