Major grant to be squirreled away

A red squirrel looking for food in Stannington. Picture by Mark Legard.
A red squirrel looking for food in Stannington. Picture by Mark Legard.

A voluntary group’s conservation work is set to be even more effective following the award of a major grant.

And good progress is also being made in its other aims, which include education and promotional work and support of small local teams.

Morpeth and District Red Squirrels (MAD RS), which was formed in early 2012, revealed in its 2014/15 annual report that it now has a team of 14 members who regularly undertake grey control.

A total of 837 grey squirrels were culled during the 12-month period.

It recently received a big boost when it was awarded a generous donation by the Ridley Family Charity. This is the main source of funding for sessional payments to one of the group’s volunteers so he can carry out a strategic programme of grey control within woodland areas around Morpeth.

He started this work two weeks ago.

In addition, it has developed a partnership with staff at Kirkley Hall, which has the resources to care for sick or injured reds that the group is asked to look after.

MAD RS joint co-ordinator Kate Weightman said: “We’re delighted with how the group has grown over the last three years.

“More volunteers have come on board and there have been sightings of reds in areas where they had not been seen in a long time, such as by the river at Bothal.

“However, we are not complacent. There is still plenty of work to do as we are getting regular reports of grey squirrel sightings.

“The grant from the Ridley Family Charity will be a big help in our efforts to trap a greater number of greys in the months ahead.

“We support residents to feed and encourage native red squirrels and meet villagers from communities around Morpeth where small groups work together to conserve ‘their’ reds.”

Other organisations, including Morpeth Town Council and Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE), have awarded grants to the group and it has set up a system of standing orders whereby individuals may contribute specifically to grey control.

Members have been invited to events at Longhirst, Cambo, Plessey Woods and Pegswood – the latter two in partnership with Katy Cook of RSNE.

The group’s annual report adds: ‘We nominated Mark Legard at Stannington for a Red Squirrel Survival Trust award (red squirrel champion of the year) and were delighted, but not surprised, when he won. His work to conserve reds in the village has been outstanding.

‘As we become better known, we have been asked to assist with objections to planning applications which may pose threats to local wildlife. Where we consider this to be appropriate we are glad to get involved and we are continually impressed by the devotion to wildlife, not just reds, shown by residents of Northumberland.

‘Our educational and promotional work has continued with successful visits to community groups including a church luncheon club, a church group for women and residential care homes. Involvement with the bio-diversity group at King Edward VI School has raised awareness of the conservation work of MAD RS.

‘We continue to value the support from Val Seddon and the staff at Joe’s Pet Supplies in Morpeth, who between them organise the sale of hazelnuts to help feed the reds and our funds.

‘We also appreciate the willingness of everyone who agrees to display one of our collecting tins, mostly local shops in Morpeth, but also Lynn Metcalfe at her practice.’

For more information about the group and its activities, visit www.madredsquirrels.com