Squirrel joy as sightings increase

RESIDENTS and volunteers have been praised after an increase in red squirrel sightings across Ponteland.

The sightings come despite a rise in the number of grey squirrels being caught in the area.

Ponteland Red Squirrels Chairman Sally Hardy said an encouraging recent development was at least three reds being spotted in the Ponteland Golf Course woods.

None had been sighted in this area for almost a year.

She added: “The Ponteland and district area has seen its largest influx of grey squirrels to date, with a total of over 200 being caught in 2012 – a marked difference to the 2010 total of 33.

“However, the good news is that our red squirrel population seems to be increasing. This is due to the vigilance of local residents and the dedication of all the Ponteland Red Squirrel volunteers.”

Students at Northumberland College’s Kirkley Hall campus are also doing their bit and after setting up a squirrel monitoring programme they found five reds in woodland around the site.

The college has now joined forces with Ponteland Red Squirrels and Red Squirrels Northern England to develop the work and students and staff regularly give up their time to devote to the project. They are also planning fund-raising activities to buy feeders and squirrel food.

Kirkley Hall Zoological Gardens keeper Michael Stephenson said: “I’m really pleased to be part of this important project to help save our red squirrels.

“They are such beautiful animals and we want to do whatever we can to help save them.”

The college is planning to create an educational squirrel trail in the woodland and encourage visitors to report any sightings.

Grey squirrels carry with them the squirrel pox virus, which is fatal to reds, and they make it more difficult for reds to find the types of food they need.

To report squirrel sightings visit www.rsne.org.uk