Red squirrels: charming, charismatic, an icon of the Cumbrian landscape, immortalised through Beatrix Potters Squirrel Nutkin. Cumbria is the best county to see wild red squirrels in northern England. We know that 80% of red squirrel conservation effort is being carried out by volunteer groups across the north. Without this passion and commitment, we will lose reds within 10-20 years.
There are 14 established local groups working tirelessly to protect red squirrels. Current conservation efforts are working. Results from monitoring programmes are demonstrating that where there is coordinated effort, with collaboration between local projects, volunteer groups and local communities, red squirrels can still thrive, and we are hearing success stories.
The most serious threat to red squirrels is the non-native grey squirrel which has spread across the UK since early introductions in the 1900s, devastating red squirrel populations in many areas. Greys carry a disease, squirrelpox virus, which is lethal to reds. They are a bigger animal, and outcompete reds for food and other resources. Research over the years has shown that greys are the single most important reason for the decline of reds.
However, as we are proving, in areas where reds and greys are kept apart, red squirrels can thrive. The problem is meeting the funding needs to sustain this effort.
£20,000 would help efforts to protect red squirrels across Cumbria. Increasingly, red squirrel conservationists are being creative, often using technology to make their work more efficient. This includes the use of trail cameras to monitor squirrels in woodlands and thermal imaging cameras to spot squirrels high up in the canopy in low light conditions. Other new technologies include cameras that send email prompts when traps have been entered. Clever stuff! These technologies have revolutionised the way conservationists work, and is having a hugely positive effect on reds. This does push the cost up though.
If we are to help empower this volunteer-led effort to protect reds, we must help them meet these rising costs.
The following list gives some indication of how fundraising will help this effort:
£15 will buy a squirrel-only feeder to provide supplementary food to reds
£20 will buy a feeder cleaning equipment to help prevent the spread of squirrel pox virus, a disease carried by grey squirrels and fatal to reds
£30 will buy a 30kg bag of squirrel food specifically tailored for reds
£45 will enable a volunteer to undergo essential training in conservation skills
£70 will hire a contractor for a day to carry out work in large, remote woodlands to manage grey squirrels or monitor for reds
£100 will buy a trail camera pack to monitor squirrels in woodlands
£250 will buy a projector to help a red squirrel group to deliver talks to local communities, raising awareness and engaging new volunteers
£1300 will buy a thermal imaging camera to identify squirrels in high canopy or dense foliage, massively increasing the effectiveness of volunteer time
Direct: 14 local red squirrel groups under the banner of Northern Red Squirrels: NRS is a network of voluntary action groups, sharing news, ideas and best practice, and knowledge. NRS has existed for 10 years, but several of the groups go back further, to the early 1990s when grey squirrels began to colonise Cumbrian woodlands. Local groups remain autonomous, but are united with a common goal: to protect red squirrels.
Direct: RSNE project: The Wildlife Trusts in northern England have over 25 years-worth of experience in leading red squirrel conservation. The current project, Red Squirrels Northern England, are responsible for overseeing critical conservation work, carrying out long term monitoring of red squirrel populations, grey squirrel management, community support and partnership management. In Cumbria, the project delivers annual monitoring of squirrels in 130 sites each spring, with 40 volunteers contributing to this work. They also employ two full time rangers focusing on grey squirrel management and red and grey squirrel monitoring.