Red-hot year for squirrel friends

A GROUP set up to save an under-threat species has gone from strength to strength in the last 12 months.

Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE) received funding in early 2012 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Biffa Award and Sita Trust, among others, and has been making good progress in identifying squirrel hotspots, raising awareness and protecting the animals.

The number of reds has been dropping over the last decade due to the spread of squirrel pox virus from the influx of grey squirrels and the loss of habitat.

The partnership is aiming to address these issues and in the first full year of the project, nine rangers and contractors have been in Northumberland carrying out grey control around designated red squirrel reserves. Six members of staff have been working in Cumbria.

The team works closely with volunteer groups and landowners.

RSNE has also undertaken the largest-yet survey of squirrel distribution. The first round took place in the spring and involved monitoring 300 sites to find out where squirrels are living across Northumberland, Cumbria, County Durham, North Yorkshire and Merseyside. It was repeated in the autumn and will continue twice yearly.

HLF funding has allowed the group to build community capacity, with new volunteer organisations set up, and visits to schools and community talks taking place. In addition, more funds are being raised to increase conservation work in priority areas.

RSNE Engaging Communities Officer Katy Cook said: “The future certainly looks rosier for these delightful, iconic animals and we cannot wait to get started on more work now that the Christmas break is over.”

Northumberland Wildlife Trust is working closely with project partners, Natural England, the Red Squirrel Survival Trust and Forestry Commission. Community engagement this year will focus on Cambo, Otterburn, Swarland and Alnwick.