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Lancashire Wildlife Trust launch the Last Red Squirrel campaign

PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 November 2016

Red squirrel showing bright summer colours by Darin Smith

Red squirrel showing bright summer colours by Darin Smith

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Spotting red squirrels outside of the atmospheric National Trust nature reserve at Formby can be difficult but these mammals are spreading their territory slowly into other parts of the county.

Rachel Miller with orphaned baby squirrel by Alan WrightRachel Miller with orphaned baby squirrel by Alan Wright

In fact, the Wildlife Trust now has regular red squirrel sightings at Mere Sands Wood, our reserve in Rufford, and we know of reds in woodland around Knowsley.

This is great news as they have bounced back from a squirrel pox which wiped out 80 per cent of their number in the north west. The disease has bitten twice over past couple of decades and is still a problem, but the population is now almost back to its old numbers.

Much of the recovery is down to hard work of volunteers working for The Lancashire Wildlife Trust – surveying numbers, maintaining habits and managing the encroachment of greys squirrels into red territories.

The Trust’s Red Squirrels project officer Rachel Miller said: ‘People in Merseyside and West Lancashire are rightly proud to have this habitat where red squirrels have survived some terrible setbacks.

LWT Red Squirrel Officer Rachel Miller places a hair trap in woods. The hair of the squirrel is caught revealing if its red or grey (Picture: Adam Moolna)LWT Red Squirrel Officer Rachel Miller places a hair trap in woods. The hair of the squirrel is caught revealing if its red or grey (Picture: Adam Moolna)

‘Thanks to the perseverance and dedication of our volunteers and project officers, the population recovered quickly and has now increased to just over 80 per cent of the pre-pox numbers.’

Grey squirrels were introduced to the UK by the Victorians to add a little more life to their gardens. The larger greys escaped and pushed the reds further and further north out-competing them in most habitats.

Then there was the pox - greys carry it but it does not affect them. It causes horrible, painful deaths in our native red squirrels. If the reds are to survive greys must be controlled, which is a tough job for the volunteers and officers of the Trust.

They are not alone. Our north west outpost is vitally important to a larger network up to Cumbria, the North East and Scotland – the Wildlife Trust in each area is leading on Red Squirrels United, a partnership with Newcastle University and Forest Research.

Digging deep for nuts by Adam MoolnaDigging deep for nuts by Adam Moolna

The partners aim to maintain grey squirrel-free habitat where it already exists - for example, on Anglesey and in Kielder Forest in northern England. They will extend current red squirrel protection zones in mid-Wales and Merseyside and implement a new whole country approach in Northern Ireland.

We are rightly proud of our red squirrel outpost and we are biased when we say that reds are far cuter than their grey cousins. They are smaller, have bushier tales and tufts on their ears and they are red. Did you know that red squirrels can be right or left handed? If you see one eating a pine cone they will be using one hand or the other.

Their fur can range from red in summer to a darker brown in winter. They can be almost black but their underside is always cream. They don’t hibernate in winter but they become less active so you might well be able to spot one at Formby during this time of the year.

Their coats moult in late summer and as winter turns to spring, and those ear tufts also moult in late autumn. Red squirrels have five toes and four fingers. They tend to live four five or six years and young squirrels are called kittens.

Red squirrel at Freshfield Dune Heath by Darin SmithRed squirrel at Freshfield Dune Heath by Darin Smith

The Lancashire Wildlife Trust is asking nature lovers to support our squirrels in its Last Red Squirrel campaign. The red squirrel is the species leading this campaign ensuring our own native wildlife will be here for future generations.

For more details of The Last Red Squirrel go to www.lancswt.org.uk/last-red-squirrel. People in the red squirrel areas will have received special booklets sent to their homes.

If you want to become a volunteer you can contact Rachel for more information at red.squirrel@lancswt.org.uk and 07590 745 862.

Lakeland fightback

There was more good news this month when a red squirrel was sighted from a bird hide at the Lake District Visitor Centre at Brockhole on the shores of Windermere. The wildlife charity Westmorland Red Squirrels and the Lake District National Park Authority have been working for the last three years to reduce the number of greys in the grounds.

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