Study looks to safeguard red squirrels' future

May 5, 2017, Nottingham Trent University
Study looks to safeguard red squirrels’ future
There are thought to be about 140,000 red squirrels left in the UK. Credit: Nottingham Trent University

Researchers are embarking on a new project aimed at helping to safeguard the future of the red squirrel in the UK.

The Nottingham Trent University study is investigating how currently utilise and exploit urban environments – so that this information can be used to help better manage these habitats to their advantage.

There are thought to be about 140,000 red squirrels left in the UK, with numbers dwindling as a result of being outcompeted by the hardier grey squirrel, which was introduced from the United States in the late 1800s.

Using Formby in Merseyside as their study site – a stronghold for red squirrels – the researchers will examine the reds' patterns of movement and their home ranges.

They will also investigate the effects of living in close proximity to humans, such as activities and opportunities for supplementary feeding and hotspots linked to traffic mortality.

The impact upon squirrel populations of the gradual removal of trees in nearby residential gardens – a high-quality habitat for the reds – will be studied as part of the four-year project, which also involves Lancashire Wildlife Trust and National Trust Formby.

The work will involve using tracking technology to monitor movements in nearby gardens and woods. Questionnaires to volunteers will assess how and when they currently feed the reds and their thoughts on squirrel conservation generally.

Any dead red squirrels found during the study will also be tested for disease and cause of death.

Red squirrels have suffered since the introduction of the non-native greys.

Grey squirrels carry the squirrelpox virus – a disease which is harmless to them but can kill reds in just a few weeks, and they can also digest seeds such as acorns more efficiently which provides them with additional food sources.

"We hope that this study will provide us with crucial insight into the urban ecology and conservation of the UK's red squirrels," said Kat Fingland, a researcher in Nottingham Trent University's School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences.

She said: "We want to take all the information we gather on how red squirrels exploit urban habitats and resources and use it to develop a strategy for managing urban areas for their benefit.

"We could look to develop new urban refuges for reds, encouraging them to disperse into neighbouring towns, and help to find new ways for them to thrive alongside people."

Kate Martin, Lead Ranger at National Trust Formby, said: "It's great to have this study taking place at Formby. Our red population lives in the coastal pinewoods but is quite close to the urban fringe of Formby town – and of course lots of visitors. We'll be very interested to see the results of Kat Fingland's work."

Explore further: Red Squirrels showing resistance to squirrelpox

Related Stories

Red Squirrels showing resistance to squirrelpox

November 26, 2013

A study by the University of Liverpool has found that the red squirrel population along the Sefton coastline appears to be recovering from a serious outbreak of squirrelpox in 2008.

Grey squirrels are bad for the British countryside

April 7, 2017

According to some animal rights groups the grey squirrel is a victim of circumstance. They say it has been made a scapegoat for regional red squirrel population extinctions and claim that loss of the reds is caused entirely ...

Formby's red squirrel population recovering

November 18, 2013

A study by the University of Liverpool has found that the red squirrel population along the Sefton coastline seems to be recovering from a serious outbreak of squirrelpox in 2008.

New hope for the red squirrel

October 16, 2008

A number of red squirrels are immune to squirrelpox viral disease, which many believed would lead to the extinction of the species, scientists have discovered.

Recommended for you

New ant species from Borneo explodes to defend its colony

April 19, 2018

Amongst the countless fascinating plants and animals inhabiting the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, there are the spectacular "exploding ants", a group of arboreal, canopy dwelling ants nicknamed for their unique ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.