First Lakes sightings in 10 years
Simon O’Hare ‘We have reds popping up in areas where they had not been seen in previous years’
The native red squirrel is winning its battle for survival against the invasive grey across Cumbria, despite an outbreak of the deadly squirrel pox.
More numbers of red squirrels are being spotted, with successful conservation projects now bearing fruit. However, cases of squirrel pox virus were confirmed across the area last year and a survey carried out by the Red Squirrels Northern England group revealed a slight dip in the numbers of reds in certain areas.
This, said Simon O’Hare, Red Squirrel Officer for Cumbria, was down to a better year for food stores, which saw a slight increase in the numbers of greys in places.
The group are currently embarking on their seventh monitoring programme, carried out each spring, and Mr O’Hare said surveying their 300 sites across northern England would give them a clearer idea if the picture has changed. “The survey works by leaving a trail camera for two weeks to record the number of greys and reds in that area. Hopefully this will produce a good result for the numbers of red squirrels.” he said.
The survey results will be published at the start of July on the Red Squirrels Northern England website.
In the Appleby area about 30 red squirrels were lost to squirrel pox last year, despite very few greys being spotted and removed. The disease made an appearance a couple of times in the Eden Valley as well, although rangers say there are still a lot of healthy reds around.
At Stockdalewath, near Dalston, an outbreak of squirrel pox late September took out three youthful reds, while rangers reported the disease in Whinfell forest, despite sightings of greys slowing down and a good population of reds. Reds have also been spotted in parts of the Lake District for the first time in more than a decade, suggesting the animals are beginning to fight off fierce competition from rival greys.
However, said Mr O’Hare, 2015 saw an increase in the number of grey squirrels at Grasmere than there had been in previous years. The number of red squirrels in Cumbria has been declining for years as the American ‘invaders’ spread a deadly pox virus.
A severe outbreak in 2002 almost wiped out red squirrels in the area, with many killed that year. New wildlife enthusiasts are being urged to keep their eyes peeled for protected red squirrels suffering from the deadly disease and they are calling for extra support and vigilance from walkers and wildlife lovers to try to tackle the threat to what is one of Cumbria’s shy creatures.
Advice for the public includes keeping an eye out for the signs of the virus on red squirrels, regularly cleaning feeders and continuing the incessant control of invading grey squirrels. Anyone who spots an injured or sick red squirrel – or a dead squirrel showing signs of the disease, is asked to contact one of the Penrith & District Red Squirrel Group members.