Populations of red squirrel in the UK have suffered markedly over the last 50 years with the introduced grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) replacing the species throughout most of England and Wales. The distribution is now largely confined to Scotland and Ireland, although isolated populations persist in southern England, on three islands in Poole Harbour in Dorset, at Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, on the Isle of Wight and at Thetford in Norfolk. At the current rate of decline, it is estimated that the population will probably disappear from Staffordshire by the year 2000. In Wales only a few thousand red squirrels remain, confined to scattered localities and in northern England it is found only where greys have not yet established themselves. The species remains widespread and locally common in Scotland, where they have shown a modest expansion in range and number. The species is also widespread in Northern Ireland.
Reds are usually displaced within 15 years of the arrival of greys, appearing to suffer competitive exclusion by a species better adapted to conditions in the now fragmented British woodland, where acorns are often the principal food. The current population is estimated to be 160,000.
The red squirrel is listed on Appendix III of the Bern Convention and is protected by Schedules 5 and 6 of the WCA and Schedules 5 and 6 of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.
Current factors causing loss or decline
Spread of grey squirrels.
Habitat fragmentation making some areas less suitable for red squirrels, increasing their vulnerability to displacement by grey squirrels.
JNCC is drafting a UK strategy for Red Squirrel Conservation.
The species is the subject of a Species Recovery Programme run by NE. A major campaign "Red Alert" has been initiated to raise public awareness and co-ordinate conservation projects, and a Squirrel Forum has been established.
The Forestry Commission is currently researching a new hopper designed to be selective in poisoning grey but not red squirrels. Permission to trial the hopper live is being sought from MAFF at present. If the trials are successful, this will be a major advance in controlling greys.
Habitat manipulation studies are in progress. Forest management studies are being carried out with FA funding, while FE have identified at least three large forest areas where red squirrel conservation management is a priority.
Experimental translocations to Thetford have identified protocols, but await genetic studies before translocation takes place. Planning for a full-scale translocation is in progress.
Action plan objectives and targets
Where appropriate, maintain current populations of red squirrel.
Where appropriate, enhance current populations of red squirrel.
Re-establish red squirrel populations, where appropriate.
Proposed actions with lead agencies
Policy and legislation
Achieve agreement on the UK Red Squirrel Strategy and develop regional guidelines for management of red and grey squirrel populations within the national framework. (ACTION: FA, JNCC, LAs)
Review geographical restrictions on use of Warfarin. (ACTION: FA, DANI, MAFF, SOAEFD, WOAD)
Seek to ensure that the needs of the red squirrels are taken into account when reviewing or preparing Indicative Forestry Strategies. (ACTION: FA, LAs, Regional Authorities)
Site safeguard and management
Prepare and implement site management plans for all sites with viable populations. This should be phased, with plans for all marginal sites by the year 2000 and all other sites by 2005. (ACTION: CCW, NE, DoE(NI), FA, FE, LAs, SNH,)
Attempt to create or maintain 2,000 ha of conifer reserves in Wales to provide a suitable habitat for the red squirrel. (ACTION: CCW, FA, FE, WOAD)
Species management and protection
Develop strategies, within the national framework, to guide and co-ordinate work. (ACTION: CCW, DoE(NI), NE, FC, JNCC, SNH)
Assess experimental translocation projects for wider use. (ACTION: CCW, NE, FA, FE)
Attempt to prevent expansion of grey squirrel range to key areas currently occupied by reds. (ACTION: FA, FE,)
Advise land managers on the relationship between reds and greys, and appropriate management. (ACTION: CCW, DoE(NI), NE, FA, SNH)
Develop guidance on forestry design to benefit red squirrels. (ACTION: DANI, FA, MAFF, SOAEFD, WOAD, )
Future Research and Monitoring
Continue research on feeding ecology, bait hoppers,supplementary feeding,red/grey interactions, methods of control and eradication (e.g. immunosterilants), translocation, population reinforcement, habitat manipulation (including nestbox provision), and phylogenetic studies. (ACTION: CCW, NE, FC, DoE(NI), JNCC, SNH,)
Establish a survey method and Squirrel Monitoring Scheme to ascertain population levels, identify key sites and monitor range and population of greys. (ACTION: FC, JNCC).
Pass information gathered during survey and monitoring of this species to JNCC in order that it can be incorporated in a national database and contribute to the maintenance of an up-to-date Red List. (ACTION: CCW, NE, SNH)
Communications and Publicity
The balance between red and grey squirrel populations is an emotive issue. Clear information explaining the relationship between reds and greys should be made available to the public and landowners. (ACTION: CCW, NE, DoE(NI), FA, SNH)
Links with other action plans
Originally published in: Biodiversity: The UK Steering Group Report - Volume II: Action Plans (December 1995, Tranche 1, Vol 2, p91)
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