Red squirrels have a very limited distribution in the UK due losses and fragmentation of native habitats and the introduction of the grey squirrel from North America in the 1870s. The situation has worsened since the 1980’s when Squirrel Pox Virus was first detected. The virus is usually fatal to reds but not greys. Once a red squirrel population has been killed by Squirrel Pox Virus, grey squirrels are often able to out-compete any remaining reds for food resources. Red squirrels are now one of the most threatened native mammals in the UK. Find out more about red squirrel conservation here.
Fortunately, recent studies show that current red squirrel range is being maintained, and red squirrels remain widely distributed across northern England. Red squirrels have several strongholds in the north of England, including in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Northumberland, in places such as Kielder, Harwood, Slaley and Kyloe. Northumberland National Park is another stronghold. Red squirrels are known to be present in Cragside, Allenheads, Greenhead, Swarland, around Ponteland, Morpeth and Ashington and along the Northumberland coast north to Alnwick.
However, grey squirrels are increasingly detected in places such as Haydon Bridge, Corbridge and Hexham and the North Tyne area. Due to difficulties in controlling the numbers, greys are quickly able to colonise new areas, or re-colonise areas where they have been removed. Greys often use river corridors (such as the Irthing and Liddle in Cumbria and the Tyne in Northumberland).
Sadly, red squirrels can no longer be seen in the parks of Newcastle and Sunderland. However, where there are concerted efforts to control grey squirrel numbers, it is possible to maintain exclusive red squirrel populations, for example, red squirrels were the only species detected in several surveys in parts of Northumberland, including around Rothbury, Kielder Forest, Kidland Forest, Redesdale and Wallington.
As red squirrels are a protected species (under Schedule 5 and 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended)), occasionally there can be conflict between developers and red squirrels. When considering the approval of a development proposal, the local planning authority and licensing agencies require information to determine the effects of the development on red squirrels (and other protected species), and to identify if mitigation, compensation or enhancement measures are required.
Often a red squirrel survey may be required. These usually comprise visual vantage point surveys, hair tube surveys, drey counts, searches for feeding sigs or using whole maize bait. Surveyor must take reasonable precautions to avoid disturbing red squirrels in their dreys. Sometimes remote camera traps can be deployed. This can be a good opportunity to learn about other types of wildlife that may be present on or near a potential development site. Animals which are sometimes recorded include badgers, foxes, deer, other small mammals and birds. The photos below were all captured around Northumberland.
Acer Ecology are experienced in undertaking a wide range of protected species and red squirrel surveys. We can provide expert advice to developers, design mitigation strategies for a range of protected species and give solutions for developers seeking planning permission for a range of construction and infrastructure projects. For more information about red squirrel surveys or any of our other ecological services, call our head office on 029 2065 0331.