Keep an eye out for reds and greys in autumn

As we head towards autumn and the leaves start to fall from the trees you are much more likely to see squirrels, be they the non-native grey or our native red.

Red squirrels are found throughout Europe and as far east as Japan, however they are now finding it difficult to survive in this country due to a variety of pressures. I know I have written about red squirrels before but I thought it was worth just highlighting them again.

Before I get on to the pressures they face and how you can help I want tell you a bit more about these interesting creatures. Males and females both look the same but they can have a variable coat from a sandy colour through to almost black. They are quite a bit smaller than their grey cousins, that were introduced about one hundred years ago, and can live for about six or seven years in the wild. Like many wild animals they have been known to survive much longer in captivity. They moult in autumn and during the winter months are usually a dark red/brown with ear tufts and a thick dark tail. They moult again in spring and during the summer months have a paler coat, no ear tufts and a pale thin tail.

They build robust dreys (nests) in the winter for breeding in made of twigs with a moss lining. During the summer they build temporary dreys used only for sleeping in. They start breeding December with the males chasing the females and the litter of three young being born in March. During a good year for food another litter may be born in June. They like a variety of woodland from conifer forest to broad leaf woods with about one squirrel per hectare. However as I said they are facing a number of difficulties leading to a drastic reduction in numbers in recent years.

The obvious reason for this is the increase in the grey squirrel population, introduced from America just over 100 years ago. The reds decline is not just because of the greys are out-competing the reds for available food, although that does play a part with greys eating all the unripe hazel nuts whilst reds will only eat ripe hazel nuts. The presence of greys also increases stress levels among red populations bringing about a fall in numbers and greys also can carry a virus, parapox, that does not affect them but will kill reds if passed on. Habitat loss is another issue that is causing a decline in the number of reds due to the lack of large areas of woodland cover. The quality of existing woodland is also an obstacle as the woodland left is becoming fragmented and is only covering small areas.

So what can be done about this? Well, red squirrels have been given protection by law and organisations are trying to help protect our remaining red squirrel populations. This has included employing red squirrel officers, in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. These red squirrel officers are looking for reported sightings of both red and grey squirrels in their respective areas so that they can get an idea of the distribution of both species. You can play your part by phoning Red Squirrels Northern England on 0845 347 9375 or Karen Ramoo, the Red Squirrels in South Scotland Project Officer on 01750 23446 highlighting with any red or grey sightings. If you search for the project names online you will find out how to you can input your sightings over the web. Please be able to give a description of where you saw them with either a place name or, better yet, a grid reference. It is vital that we do all we can to protect our red squirrels so please report any sightings you have.

That’s all from me for the moment.

GRAEME WILSON

Should you find an animal in need of our services, or if you need advice please phone HQ on (01289) 302882. We are happy to help. You can also e-mail via our website www.swan-trust.org. We are also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/swantrust.

If you would like to donate to the Trust (cheques payable to B.S.W.T.),or to become a member please contact treasurer, Derek Roughton. Yew Tree Cottage, Branton, Alnwick, NE66 4LW. Phone (01665) 578365. The Berwick Swan and Wildlife Trust is a registered charity in England.