Conservation Series: The Red Squirrel

Here at the QMUL Sustainability blog we are keen to showcase a range of environmental issues. In this series of blog posts, English department finalist Becky Cox encourages students and staff to think about and get involved in wildlife conservation. In this post, the case of the Red Squirrel is examined.

Hello again! You may be surprised to know that the red squirrel is the only native squirrel to the United Kingdom as it is so infrequently seen. Consequently the red squirrel is the topic of this article due to it’s rapid decline in the last one hundred years. In the 19th Century the grey squirrel was brought over from America and as the better survivalist regarding food and nesting it fought it’s fiery relative to a state of serious regression. Grey squirrels also carry squirrelpox which is deadly to red squirrels thus disabling a harmonious society where both species of squirrel can exist. Although IUCN do not class this animal as ‘endangered’ as they are also present in Europe their populations are quickly falling within the UK only being found in small clusters in Scotland, Ireland and Northern England, and being outnumbered by the American grey squirrel twentyfold.

Squirrel Picture

A few fun facts about the red squirrel:

  • They cannot eat acorns.
  • They use their bushy tails to balance, keep warm and communicate.
  • They use their ears to express how they feel (like dogs).
  • They have double-jointed ankles to allow them to walk down trees vertically.
  • And lastly for anyone who likes a cultural reference Charles Perrault’s fairy tale ‘Cinderella’ was mistranslated from French to English, Cinderella ‘glass’ (‘verre’) slipper should not have been glass at all but actually red squirrel pelts (or fur, ‘vaire’).

Despite their wonderfully adaptable features they are not strong enough to survive with other animals. Some islands like Brownsea Island and the Isle of Wight have exclusively got red squirrels to allow them a space to live.

Another idea for conservation is the reintroduction of predators such as the pine marten. Grey squirrels spend much more time on the ground and are consequently killed more often than the red squirrels. As a side note, the pine marten, was previously thought to be extinct in England and Wales for fifteen years when last summer there was a sighting which you can read more about here:

There are efforts to reintroduce the pine marten after this sighting but it is not yet too late for the red squirrel but without serious conservation efforts now, it will be extinct within 20 years.

Pine Marten

There are several ways to help the Red Squirrel in the UK:

The Red Squirrel Survival Trust is asking people to ‘Become a Friend’ of the Red Squirrels by donating money either annually or monthly. They are also requesting anyone who lives in the North of England or Scotland to report sightings and take photographs of Red Squirrels so the population can be regulated.

Equally Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels request people to report sightings or volunteer to take part in the Spring Surveys. You can also adopt a Red Squirrel, the money going towards protection of habitat and testing environments for the squirrelpox virus.

If you do not live in the northern climes of the country then the nearest population to you may be the Isle of Wight. Here they also need help with sightings and donations.

You can also donate to this charity who are trying to recover the populations of the pine marten.

And if you just really want to see the Red Squirrel or the Pine Marten there is a wonderful assortment of native British species at the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey that I personally recommend!

Thank you for reading!

-Becky Cox






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