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My first memory of red squirrels, along with many other people, I’m sure, dates back to reading about Squirrel Nutkin in the Beatrix Potter books as a child. However, seeing them in the wild has been a pretty rare event for me. Except for a few fleeting glimpses in the Lake District and Northumbria, the world of squirrels, for my life at least, has been dominated by the grey.

JACK FORRESTER youngsters.

The other main factor is the squirrel pox virus that was first identified in the 1980s, when a fatal outbreak in Norfolk had a large impact on the local and now wider population. In 2017, there were estimated to be around 250,000 reds left, where once their numbers reached 3.5 million. The grey population is now in excess of 2.5 million.

The red squirrel has been around since the end of the last Ice Age and as part of our native fauna, they could be found all across the UK. The grey was first introduced in the 1870s by a Canadian landowner and from then on, they continued to be imported until around the 1930s when new legislation was brought in that recognised them as an invasive species. From here on, the grey population and territory has continued to expand and dominate much of the UK.


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The dominance of the grey can be attributed to many different factors but essentially, it can be characterised simply as that the grey just outcompetes the red in every area, in particular in broad-leaved woodlands, such as oak woods. The greys eat the unripe acorns before the reds get a chance. The greys don’t breed more often or have more offspring (kittens) than reds but because they out-compete them, it means they are in better breeding condition and therefore more likely to successfully rear a number of healthy

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However, although the situation may look bleak, there is still, I always try to feel anyway, a cause for hope. As recently as March this year, scientists were observing pine martens curbing and levelling the rising grey populations. This is due to them being easy prey, while the red is far more elusive. Combined with an oral contraceptive that prevents the greys from breeding, management of the species could become easier.

However, this is a long-term project and the continuing commitment by volunteers and organisations to prevent greys further encroaching on the reds’ territory is still needed until these solutions take effect. The loss of the red squirrel would be a disaster but as with other species such as the otter and buzzard, changes in fortune can occur through creative solutions and sheer will.

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Our dedicated ‘Team’ deliver to the Town Centres and Residents of Cockermouth and Keswick, Lorton, Buttermere, Papcastle, ISSUE 429 | 20 SEPTEMBER 2018 | 36


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