Weʼre raising £2,000 to Buy trail cams and thermal imaging camera to save remaining red squirrels from increasing deadly grey incursion and imminent extinction.
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SOS -Save Our Squirrels
The red, or Eurasian red squirrel, Sciurus vulgaris is a tree squirrel of the genus Siurus squirrel that has been apart of our landscape since the last ice age. They migrated to Britain from Eurasia 10,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age and the species is entirely separate from its grey and black cousins. ie. they do not interbreed. The native red has been in decline since the arrival of the greys, brought over from America in the 19th century. Dancing in the trees, running, jumping, playing, scavenging for nuts and fruit whilst humans became civilised, lived through dark ages, medieval times. The red squirrel has been here, gently clucking tutting and tail swishing. A creature of real beauty, both in character and nature. As diverse and individual as we humans are ourselves. We have a duty to protect, to care for these wonderful creatures that we find ourselves living along side and sharing our woods and our landscapes. They delight, they entertain and they educate us and in return we should protect and ensure they have safe happy lives. Yet ignorance has led us to destroy our native species.
The name “squirrel” first appeared in 1327, it is Norman French, “esquirel” derived from Latin , “sciurus” – meaning “shadow tail”. The native Old English name was “ācweorna”, from Old English “ǣċ” (Oak) and “æcern”. Little Acorn, Shadow Tail.
(The earliest British fossil record of the Red Squirrel was 4542 years ago on the Isle of Wight but it is thought they date from 12,500 years ago.)
The red squirrel migrated to Britain from Eurasia 10,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age and the species is entirely separate from its grey and black cousins. ie. they do not interbreed. The native red has been in decline since the arrival of the greys, brought over from America in the 19th century. Since the release of only a few pairs , the greys have bred and spread and now number in the millions. The simple fact is they shouldn’t be here, they do not fit our environment. They are too big, too strong, too destructive. They have decimated the oak and broad leaf forests in England, however, they are not as keen on the pines and conifers in Scotland.
There are constant reports in the press about the destruction the greys cause, biting through wires, starting fires. They devastate our natural environment, stripping trees of bark killing them dead. They are officially vermin, as it is the diseases that they carry and spread that have wiped out our native red squirrel.
Red squirrel numbers have fallen by 98%. There are less than 100,000 left. The pox virus is carried by the greys and passed to the reds, it is extremely infectious. Now endemic in all the southern greys, it kills 100% of reds and greys do not develop any symptoms. They pass it on at shared feeders and when just one grey enters a red colony hundreds of reds die horrifically, starving to death with tumours on their faces. The whole area is wiped out in around ten days to a fortnight. They literally fall out of the trees. Remove the greys and the reds return.
Since the release of the couple of pairs of greys in the south, they have been pushing north, like a huge grey wave. They arrived in South Scotland in 1998, the first grey was spotted near Lockerbie. A timber wagon stop on the main motorway. They hitch rides. You can admire their tenacity and their ability but not the total devastation they leave in their wake. They push up through Kielder forest on the east, and are heading in massive numbers to meet up with the central belt greys. When this happens, they will spread the virus through that colony and it will all be over for the red squirrel. The native red squirrel – our iconic squirrel will be gone forever. Because of our irresponsible actions.
The grey is bigger, stronger, has more young that survive the first winter when reds have few and high mortality. The greys can eat unripe fruit an berries earlier than the reds, thus out competing their cousins in every way. Roads, man again, are one of the biggest killers of red squirrels, along with birds of prey whose numbers are recovering with conservation. But only because the numbers are so low.
The progression and advance of the greys has been recorded and monitored. Their numbers have expanded to an estimated 5 million and the wave of greys pushes constantly north up the country. The disease clears an area of the native and the greys take it over. Reds numbers in SW Scotland have fallen to critical levels due to the constant pox outbreaks in the wake of the greys pushing upwards over the border. ( see outbreak case studies, Paxton House, Borders).
Many groups are now actively controlling the grey squirrel and its spread. The Scottish Wildlife Trust and many in England, Wales and Ireland have now protection in place for the reds. Many people everywhere working so hard to save them. Grey control simply for the numbers would have been necessary at some point. But they project that it will be gone within five years. Our only hope is a vaccine, again around five years away.
Just outside Lockerbie, lies a gem, an oasis of peace and tranquillity an absolute jewel. Eskrigg reserve is a place of beauty, peaceful serenity, a place where people walk, sit, wonder and learn. The reserve is home of such an amazing diversity of flora and fauna, it hosts school parties and various groups, events and is popular with wildlife photographers, adults seeking peace, children looking for adventure and dog walkers. Hares, deer, butterflies, many birds, owls, frogs, toads. Mushrooms, toadstools, flowers, grasses. Also living here are a large colony of the most wonderful, beautiful, entertaining, happy, healthy red squirrels. One of the largest colonies in SW if not the whole of Scotland. Much loved and cared for by locals and visitors alike. Cared for and monitored by the hard working, Reserve Manager, Mr James Rae, who has devoted his entire life to creating an amazing wonderland that welcomes visitors from all around the world, the UK and locally who all hope to see the endangered red squirrels. They are rarely disappointed, they dance in the branches, fly through the trees. Dance, play, breed well and thrive in this beautiful, precious environment.
Sadly and worryingly, the incursion of the grey squirrels and the disease outbreaks, has led to SWT declaring SW Scotland being declared a “Grey Zone” last November, 2017. The sightings suggest greys now outnumber reds three to one and outbreaks will eventually eliminate all the reds from this region as has been the continual pattern as they move up the country.
Greys are now being sighted on the edge of the Eskrigg reserve. Increasingly often and increasingly close. Almost on a weekly basis concerned residence are seeing greys closing in on the reserve. Eskrigg, the Lockerbie Wildlife Trust, Manager James Rae, the local Annandale Red Squirrel Group, Red Alert and doing everything possible to keep this colony safe so that it can be enjoyed by future generations. It is heartbreaking to think that our grandchildren will only know and hear about these beautiful, wonderful native, once indigenous creatures through stories. That they will be lost and the dancing in the branches gone. Woodland silent.
Monitoring equipment is desperately needed. An urgent and real threat on the reserve’s doorstep could be watched and grey incursions seen and controlled before they can spread the disease through the colony. Any outbreaks could be caught early controlled and limited. Trail cams would aid the protection of the reds. Monitoring equipment such as thermal imagining cameras could locate the greys and watch over the reds. The protection they so desperately need. Despite the hard work and dedication of many they are vulnerable and in an extremely and increasingly dangerous situation. Monitoring equipment would give this very special colony a fighting change because at present it is very much borrowed time. We have done this to them, we owe it to them to at least try.
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- 2 days ago
Vicki McNamara2 days ago
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Aug 16, 2018
Hoping you get all that you need. They are so lovely, protecting them is a must : )
Aug 14, 2018
Keep up the good work Vicki! Save the Reds, says Ruaraidh!
Aug 14, 2018
Poor little ones, hope that the squirrelpox can be contained.
Aug 13, 2018
A wonderful cause
Aug 12, 2018
A very worthy cause. good luck
Aug 10, 2018
Great work you’re doing Vicki - hope this helps.
Aug 10, 2018
Well done lots of luck penny e
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