The number of red squirrels in northern England has risen for the first time in 140 years, according to a new survey.
The native red squirrel was almost wiped out across the United Kingdom after the grey squirrel was introduced from North America in the 1900s. As well as being larger and more adaptable, the grey squirrel carries a pox virus to which the red squirrel is susceptible.
As a result of the grey squirrel’s success, the native red squirrel is now restricted to just a few parts of northern England, the Isle of Wight and Scotland.
Red squirrel rise
Now, after years of decline, the red squirrel may be starting to make a comeback. A recent three-month study in 300 woodlands across northern England found that the number of red squirrels has risen by 7% compared to the same period last year. It also found that grey squirrels in the area were declining.
According to the wildlife group Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE), which carried out the survey, the increase in reds is likely to be a result of conservation efforts to improve their woodland habitats.
Conservationists have also been trapping squirrels, releasing the native reds but killing the non-native greys.
Good for tourism
As well as increasing in number, the red squirrels have also been returning to areas from which they had disappeared. For example, the survey found the species in Ambleside and Rydal in Cumbria for the first time in ten years.
“The monitoring has helped us learn that there are now 20 squirrels close to our home here which inspires us to continue our efforts to save this native species,” said Phil Bailey of the Brampton Red Squirrel Group in Cumbria.
The involvement of local people has been seen as crucial in helping the red squirrels to return, and this popular species is also an important draw for tourists. According to Simon O’Hare of the RSNE, “The effect on tourism is immeasurable. People never forget seeing red squirrels.”
Read more on this story at The Telegraph – After 140 years, red squirrels are fighting back and BBC News – Red squirrels rise by 7% in North after decline.
Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author