Forestry Commission records Cumbrian red squirrel reserve numbers

September 27th, 2010

red-squirrelThe Forestry Commission has carried out the first ever full survey of the Red Squirrels Reserve at Whinlatter Forest, Dodd Wood, Wythop and Setmurthy near Keswick as part of efforts to help conservation.

Numbers of red squirrels were counted using 75 traps located within the reserve.

One trap was placed per hectare within the reserve and recordings were made twice a day for two weeks. The red squirrels would be released and the traps would be moved to different locations until around 600 hectares of Forestry Commission land in the reserve had been surveyed.

A total of 416 red squirrels were recorded-during a 12-week period between May and August, although individual squirrels could have been caught more than once.

The survey indicated to Forestry Commission wildlife rangers where the squirrel population hotspots are. These figures provide a starting reference for future surveys in subsequent years, which will then help provide an indication of population trends. This will help wildlife rangers to manage the reserve more effectively to help the red squirrels continue to survive in Cumbria.

Matthew Easton, Forestry Commission wildlife ranger, said: “We have trapped red squirrels in the past, mainly because we were responding to sightings of grey squirrels within the reserve. And that gave us a certain indication of population. However, this is the first time that a methodical approach has been used for the deployment of the traps.

“This method will provide us with far better results, and it can be replicated in future years to help give us an indication as to how the red squirrels are faring within the Whinlatter reserve.

“This will help to show us whether our current methods of forest management are sufficient to help this highly popular indigenous species survive.”

Forest management techniques currently used to help the red squirrels survive include maintaining a level of mature conifers within Whinlatter Forest and the neighbouring woodland. This is because there is evidence that reds fare better against competition from the larger grey squirrels in a coniferous environment, compared with broadleaf trees.

Graeme Prest, the Forestry Manager in the North West, says: “Cumbria’s publicly owned forests are home to a wide range of wildlife and the Forestry Commission places a high priority on improving the biodiversity of these important habitats. Red squirrels are one of the most popular residents of our forests in Cumbria and this study will help in the work we are doing to try to protect them.”

Any grey squirrels that were found were found in the traps were removed from the area. One result from this year’s trapping that is cause for hope is that the numbers of grey squirrels that were caught in the reserve this year are lower than last. This is an indication that there are fewer grey squirrels moving into the reserve.

Grey squirrels, which were introduced into the UK from North America, are a threat to red squirrels because they compete more effectively for food and they are also carriers of the deadly Squirrel Pox. Grey squirrels are resistant to Squirrel Pox, but they can pass it on to reds, which are not resistant.

For more information about the Forestry Commission in the North West please visit www.forestry.gov.uk/northwestengland.

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