MORE than 20,000 grey squirrels have now been culled in Northumberland, it was revealed yesterday. The trapping has been carried out by the Red Squirrel Protection Partnership, which was founded in December 2006 with a £148,000 grant to protect the county’s red squirrels.
The organisation continues its work through donations and fundraising events.
A total of 20,161 greys have been despatched in the county since field operations started.
The North American grey squirrel was imported into the UK over 150 years ago and carries the squirrel pox virus which has effectively wiped out most of the country’s native red squirrel population.
The cull total means the advance of the greys has now been pushed back by 10 years, according to RSPP chairman Lord Redesdale.
“We’ve reached a significant landmark figure and have fought a long hard battle to eliminate greys from Northumberland,” he said.
“There are a few remaining hot spots but we’ve cleared out greys from Kielder Forest, Heddon-on-the-Wall, Mitford Hall and Ebchester.”
Over 3,700 greys have been trapped in Slaley Forest and the first reds have now returned to the area.
“The greys have now been pushed back into County Durham and we estimate only a few hundred remain on the Durham - Northumberland border,” said Lord Redesdale.
“We have to protect our native species and we are indeed fortunate that Northumberland still hosts one of the highest populations of surviving red squirrels in England.
“Tourism remains the county’s second largest source of income and we need to maintain red squirrel populations or the species will become extinct.
“We’ve quantified our results over the past 20 months and have proven that by eliminating greys in certain areas, the reds then return and once again thrive in their natural environment,” said Lord Redesdale.
In July red squirrels were again seen in Jesmond Dene in Newcastle and have returned to the Mitford area of Northumberland.
Lord Redesdale and his team began work with 70 traps and now have over 1,000 spread throughout the county.
The organisation is currently trapping over 150 greys per month, down from a peak figure of over 250 per week just over a year ago.
Eshott Hall, near Morpeth, remains a stronghold for red squirrels and last month hosted an evening event to raise awareness of the need to protect the species.
Eshott Hall spokeswoman Debbie Houston said the estate has undertaken a policy to protect as well as increase local red squirrel numbers.
“We’ve undertaken supplementary feeding for the past decade and now have a thriving population in the surrounding woodland area. Our red squirrels have proven to be a major attraction for our conference and banqueting guests and feature as a high priority with overseas visitors,” she said.
“We are currently working closely with local landowners, farmers, interested individuals and various squirrel protection organisations in order to increase public awareness of the continued grey squirrel threat.”
People are being urged to report all grey and red squirrel sightings during the Great North Squirrel Quest, which will run between October 4-12. The plea comes from the Save Our Squirrels project, based at Northumberland Wildlife Trust.
Log on to www.saveoursquirrels.org for details about the work of the RSPP or becoming a member visit www.rspp.org.uk Report sightings of grey squirrels to RSPP head trapper Paul Parker on 07890 600-243.
Perfect place for a great view
SCULPTOR David Gross has created a wooden squirrel-shaped viewer so that visitors can observe the animals at Kielder Forest and Water Park in Northumberland.
The viewer has been installed in a squirrel observation hide at Leaplish.
The hide was opened by Northumbrian Water and Northumberland Wildlife Trust with support from the Save our Squirrels project. David, from Seaham in County Durham, said: “It’s certainly one of the most unusual commissions I’ve been asked to produce but the squirrel viewer provides a perfect place to take a break and watch these fascinating creatures.”
National Red Squirrel Week runs from October 4-12.