A DRIVE is being mounted to save retreating red squirrels in the most populated part of Northumberland. A target has been set by the Red Squirrel Survival Trust – launched by Prince Charles in 2009 – to raise £180,000 over three years to finance the operation.
It will focus on south east Northumberland in an area bounded by Ponteland, Belsay, Morpeth, Ashington, Cramlington, Blyth and Seaton Delaval.
There are around 400 reds remaining in the area, living mainly in 10,000 acres of woodland along the rivers Wansbeck, Blyth, Pont and Lyne.
But their position is perilous, as illustrated by the fact that in the last 10 years the remaining red squirrel population in County Durham has been lost.
In just a decade, the advancing grey squirrels have pushed the reds’ range back by 20 to 30 miles.
Janet Wickens, director of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust (RSST) said that the aim was to initially raise £60,000 for the first year of the project, in which two rangers would be employed to control greys pushing into south east Northumberland.
She said it was imperative that work should start early next year.
“We have to do something and quickly or we could lose the reds in the target area in three or four years,” she said.
“If we don’t start controlling greys next year, the numbers of reds could drop by the end of 2013 to a level where they will not be able to recover. It is as urgent as that.”
Businesses from the area were invited by Lord Ridley to Blagdon Hall in south east Northumberland for a presentation on the project.
“We are fortunate in being one of the few remaining places in England where red squirrels can be seen,” said Lord Ridley.
Janet said: “If a businessperson wants to do something they will usually act fast and decisively. They will be leading a workforce, have a customer base and a local following, and be dealing with other local companies.
“Business leaders can stand up and say we care about something which matters to people in south east Northumberland.
“They can take a lead and involve their workforces, customers and clients. Perhaps they could double any amount raised by the workforce.
“Places like hotels, golf courses, and estates can also get involved and say they are proud of having red squirrels but we have to do something very quickly or we could lose them.
“We have to raise £60,000 a year for three years, but if we can do that we think we can ensure there will be reds in every woodland in south east Northumberland by 2020 for future generations.”
The trust is a partner in Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE) which is concentrating on grey trapping around 17 woodlands and forests across the North, which have been designated as red refuges.
RSNE project manager Nick Mason said that 2,500 greys had been trapped in the last year.
He said: “The south east Northumberland campaign is important because that is the part of the county where most people live and who can see reds most days. We want them to hang on to their reds.
“Greys are more widespread in Northumberland than we thought and we are having to work very hard in the more remote areas.
“But we also have to tackle the frontier areas like south east Northumberland.
“We want to reach the point where there are reds in every woodland north of Newcastle.”
One company which has moved to help red squirrels is chipboard manufacturer EGGER UK based in Hexham.
It is sponsoring a bi-annual monitoring and research programme which is essential to ensure that baseline data is gathered to measure the impact of conservation efforts on red squirrel populations.
Jackie Watson, communications co-ordinator at EGGER UK, said: “It’s clearly an ambitious project which requires sustainable investment and support to safeguard the future conservation efforts of the RSST and Red Squirrels Northern England, and I would urge other local employers to give their support.
“We have some wonderful native wildlife in Northumberland, and collectively we have a responsibility to protect and conserve it for future generations.”
Earlier this year Janet moved the Red Squirrel Survival Trust from London to its new base at Ouston, near Whitfield in Northumberland.
She said: “ When the trust was set up, it was important to be in London initially to forge links with major organisations and donors.
“But now we have decided to be where the action is such as Northumberland.”
Janet, who took over a trust director a year ago, has spent 25 years as a professional fundraiser for a variety of charities.
To offer support for the south east Northumberland project, contact 01434 345 757 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The trust is among the charities to be included in the Big Give Christmas Challenge.
From last Thursday, the trust has two weeks to raise £10,000 online, which could see the amount doubled by the Big Give Fund.
Details on www.rsst.org.uk