Conservation workers have told of their delight after a new report revealed that red squirrels were being seen at more sites across the North East.
The study of 300 woodlands and gardens in the region has shown that the number of places occupied by reds rose by 7% this year in comparison with spring 2012, while grey squirrel site occupancy reduced by 18% in the same time period.
The monitoring programme, set up by the charity Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE), used methods including walked transects through woodlands, observing feeders in gardens and using electronic trail cameras.
The group says the new information strongly suggests that the population of red squirrels may finally be stabilising after more than 140 years of decline.
In north Northumberland reds are looking strong again, between Wooler and Berwick, after an outbreak of red squirrel disease two years ago.
John Rae, from the Berwick Save our Squirrels Group, said: “Without this monitoring we would not know what was happening in our valuable red squirrel woodlands or the how effective our conservation work is.
“The good news for 2013 is that the monitoring of our woodlands shows signs of a reduction in grey squirrels against previous years, with red squirrels moving back in.”
In south Northumberland red squirrels are still being found in dozens of back gardens around Ashington, Bedington and Cramlington.
Monitoring volunteer Gary Gallagher, from Choppington, added: “I think it is our responsibility to help the red squirrels out as much as possible. Every little thing we do is a step to help save our reds.”
And Nick Mason, RSNE programme manager, said: “None of this would have been possible without support from Biffa Award and Heritage Lottery Fund which is helping us make massive in-roads into saving reds.
“I would urge everybody in Northumberland to get involved, stay involved and help make a difference to the future of these beautiful and endearing animals.”
The RSNE team is urging anyone seeing red squirrels between now and Christmas to record their sightings through the charity’s website www.rsne.org.uk/sightings .
This will ensure reds are represented in the results of the autumn monitoring programme, helping to encourage further conservation development in 2014.
The programme focuses on grey squirrel control.
Greys carry squirrelpox, a disease fatal to reds and are also able to out compete reds in most woodland habitats.
The charity employs a 15-strong team to conserve the North’s red squirrels.