Species name: red squirrel
Nominated by: The Wildlife Trust for
IUCN Red List classification: Least Concern
What is so special about your species?
For many in the United Kingdon, the red squirrel brings back childhood memories of Squirrel Nutkin, a character from the famous Beatrix Potter series. The red squirrel is one of our most iconic, native and much loved small mammals in the UK. Seeing a red squirrel for the first time is a special moment, and something that everybody should experience.
In terms of ecological niche, the red squirrel is a key seed disperser for our native tree species such as Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris). They also spread mychorrizal fungi spores that are incredibly important for their symbiosis with trees. Red squirrels therefore play a vital role in regeneration of coniferous woodlands which are also an important habitat for other species, such as the goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), pine marten (Martes martes) and wildcat (Felis silvestris).
What are the threats to this species in the wild?
The red squirrel has nearly completely disappeared from the UK in just under 150 years, declining from around 3.5 million to just 140,000. However they are now a protected species in the UK.
Sadly, the biggest threat to the species has been the introduction of the invasive grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), brought over by the Victorians in the 1870s. Not only do grey squirrels outcompete Reds in for food and resources, they also carry the squirrel pox virus. This virus is highly pathogenic to reds, yet carried by greys without impact on their health. Currently 61% of Greys have been exposed to and may carry the virus. Where the virus is present, Greys replace red squirrels twenty times faster than through competition alone.
What can people do to help your species?
If you are in an area in the UK which currently has a population of red squirrels nearby and you spot a grey squirrel, please contact your local Wildlife Trust or Red Squirrels United (a partnership of many organisations working together to save the Red), and inform them of your sighting.
If you would like to get involved in long term monitoring and survey work, helping towards understanding population trends, impacts of Greys and the effects of conservation management techniques then please contact us.
If you don’t live close to a population of Reds, one way you can help is by raising awareness about the red squirrel through community engagement and fundraising. Get creative and get in touch and let’s save the last red squirrel together!