Survey gives hope as red squirrels hold their own

North East's red squirrels hang on to their territory in face of grey advance, a new study suggests

A red squirrel, with a nut in it's mouth at Kielder Forest
A red squirrel, with a nut in it's mouth at Kielder Forest

Endangered red squirrels are holding their own in the North, according to a new survey.

Following three months of spring survey work in 289 woodlands and gardens across northern England, analysis confirms that the red squirrel range has remained stable over the last two years.

This is bucking a trend of over a century of loss of territory in England.

This is the fifth monitoring survey run by the Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE) project over the last three years.

Community volunteers and project staff found red squirrels in the same number of sites as during the autumn 2013 programme, despite seeing an increase of 9% in the number of sites with non-native grey squirrels. Increases in grey squirrel detection were expected following a mild winter and good wild nut and berry supply.

The project said that this serves as a reminder that the future of the red squirrel on the English mainland is in the hands of individuals, groups and organisations currently working together to conserve reds by managing non-native grey squirrel populations.

The latest survey also revealed new red squirrel sightings in Upper Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales and North Pennines where red squirrels had not been detected since the project started in 2012.

In north Northumberland, red squirrels continue to do well between Wooler, Bamburgh and Berwick thanks largely to committed local conservation efforts, but remain hard to find in the greater Alnwick area.

John Rae from local group Save Our Squirrels Berwick said: “This spring we used feeders and cameras to monitor 13 sites as part of the RSNE project. Yet again we are finding woods being repopulated by reds where previously we have found only greys, which is fantastic news.”

In central Northumberland, reds continue to fare well where communities are working to conserve them, as at Pegswood Community Woods near Morpeth and in South-East Northumberland.

There are colonies of reds in the eastern urban centres of Ashington, Cramlington and Bedlington.

In the south west of the county, red squirrels continue to be well spread along the upper Tyne Valley and between Hexham and Blanchland although grey squirrel sightings have increased this year.

Eric Wilton, National Trust countryside manager said: “Over the past two years, the National Trust rangers at Allen Banks and Staward Gorge have been working in close partnership with RSNE to increase grey squirrel control to help red squirrels.

“Thanks to the efforts of RSNE rangers trapping in the woodlands either side of Allen Banks alongside our increased efforts, we are able to report an increase in red squirrel sightings and a decrease in greys. This is proving a fantastic partnership that has helped us improve the chances of the native red squirrel.”

In Cumbria, conservation efforts may also be helping reds expand into the western edges of North Yorkshire and County Durham.

Nick Mason, RSNE project manager, said: “Our broad conservation community is growing ever more certain that this high quality science is reflecting the positive impact of sustained hard work.

“Hundreds of people working together, with appropriate investment, are conserving this beautiful animal. This investment must continue to maintain this success.”

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