Following three months of spring survey work in 289 different woodlands and gardens across northern England, analysis confirms that red squirrel range has remained stable over the last two years, bucking a trend of over a century of loss 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 seemingly abundant wild nut and berry supply. This serves as a stark reminder that the future of the red squirrel on the English mainland is entirely in the hands of committed individuals, groups and organisations currently working together to conserve reds by managing intermingled non-native grey squirrel populations.
Especially interesting this spring are the new rash of red squirrel sightings in the northern Yorkshire Dales (Upper Swaledale) and North Pennines (Teesdale, County Durham) where red squirrels had not been detected since the project started in 2012. We hope local communities can help us learn more about the size and health of these potential populations over the next six months, and encourage people to report red squirrel sightings on our website at www.rsne.org.uk/sightings
In north Northumberland, red squirrels continue to do well between Wooler, Bamburgh and Berwick thanks largely to committed local conservation efforts, but remain worryingly 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! We are privileged to have the Kyloe red squirrel Reserve in our area.”
In Central Northumberland, reds squirrels continue to fare extremely well where communities are working together to conserve them, for instance, at Pegswood Community Woods near Morpeth. Jean Mitchell of ‘Friends of Pegswood Community Woods’ said: “We have been feeding and monitoring our reds regularly and we have seen an increase this year with two new kits. We have had a lot of support from the local community and we will be starting our 'Adopt a Red Squirrel' scheme in September, and in South-East Northumberland, there are some fantastic 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. Grey squirrel sightings have increased this year, highlighting the need for continuing conservation effort. 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. During this time, 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.”
The conservation efforts and monitoring producing these fantastic results are supported by Biffa Award, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Nurture Lakeland, Furness Building Society, Forestry Commission and many other committed partners.
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 for 2 million northern English residents to enjoy on their doorsteps. This investment must continue to maintain this success.”