MAIN MENU (leading to individual articles):
AMPHIBIANS   |   BIRDS  |  BUTTERFLIIES  |  MOTHS  | DRAGONFLIES  |  OTHER INSECTS
MAMMALS   |  PLANTS  |  ORCHIDS   |  LICHENS  |  FUNGI
 |  WHAT TO SEE MONTH BY MONTH  
FURNESS  |  BIRKRIGG COMMON  |  CONTACT DETAILS  |  HOME



THE RED SQUIRREL
IN CUMBRIA

  • At the end of the Nineteenth Century the Red squirrel was present in pest proportions in Britain and the Grey was beginning to spread out after introductions between 1876 and 1889.
  • Between 1900 and 1925 a massive decline in Reds occurred (mainly by disease), which continued as coniferous forests were cut down for use in the Second World War.
  • Now Scotland is the main stronghold for the species but Cumbria and the Kielder Forest of Cumbria and Northumbria now hold most of the Red Squirrel population of England.Distribution of red and grey squirrels
  • Cumbria's populations are under threat from Greys encroaching form Lancashire (see map). Greys have moved up through the county and are now causing problems in Scotland as well.
  • Greys oust Reds by out-competing them for food, especially in broad-leaved woodland, but do not physically attack them.
  • Greys thrive when there is an abundance of acorns and beech mast; they can eat unripe seeds.
  • Reds need ripened seeds of pine (a particularly important food source), larch and fir, but will also eat berries, buds and fungi. The sitka spruce, frequently planted commercially, is a popular food but is generally a poor source as it has a short coning period.
  • Shortage of food before breeding leads to low birth weight of young and reduced chance of survival.
  • Poor seed crops, bad winters and disease, especially the miximatosis-like pox virus, lead to falling numbers. Greys carry the pox virus but do not suffer from it, whereas Reds suffer high mortality.
  • Strategies to help Reds include selective feeding by special hoppers designed to deny access to Greys, control of Greys in areas where both exist, rope bridges across main roads to reduce high mortality, and most recently the intensive management of suitable refuge sites where the right mix of older seeding bearing and younger coniferous trees is encouraged and broad-leaved corridors for the greys are reduced and monitored with appropriate controls to trap them. Refuges in Cumbria include Greystoke, Whinfell, Whinlatter, Thirlmere, and Garsdale/Mallerstang.
  • Unfortunately the requirements of Red squirrels are now somewhat "politically incorrect" - much present day forestry is replacing unpopular conifers with natural broad-leaved woodland more suited to birds, butterflies and native plants (and greys!).
  • The best time to see Reds is in the winter and spring when they forage more in the middle of the day. In summer they tend to forage in two spells with a nap between; as the first spell is at first light that means being up very early in the summer to see them!
  • Monitoring squirrels is very difficult. The main method is still visual monitoring but tubes with sticky linings can be used to trap hairs (Red squirrel hairs have a groove that shows up with dye under a microscope, greys have no groove). Maize baiting can also be used, as well as the occasional trapping.