Squirrel Appreciation Day is held on the 21st of January in mid-winter, a hard time for wildlife in the UK. The day was first celebrated in 2001 and is particularly poignant for us in the UK, where the sight of a native red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is increasingly rare.
Red Squirrel Conservation
The native red squirrel population in the UK has a history of decline following the introduction of the grey squirrel in the 1870s. Disease-mediated competition is thought to have played a part in this decline since the 1980s when Squirrel Pox Virus (SQPV) was first detected. It is carried by but is rarely fatal to grey squirrels. It is usually fatal to red squirrels. Once a population of red squirrel has been killed by SQPV, grey squirrels are often able to take advantage as they are able to out-compete red squirrels for food resources in light of declining red squirrel numbers.
Fortunately, there are several red squirrel conservation groups working across the UK to save our native reds. One example is Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE). This conservation partnership aims to maintain and expand red squirrel range through landscape-scale grey squirrel control. A vital part of RSNE’s work involves monitoring the distributions of both red squirrel grey squirrel across Northumberland and the North of England.
The Wildlife Trusts has conducted several schemes in order to help restore the UK’s red squirrel population, including habitat restoration and volunteering days. More information can be found here.
To celebrate Squirrel Appreciation Day here at Acer, we’ve put together our favourite facts about this nutty mammal.
- Squirrels belong to the Sciuridae family, which encompasses many small and medium-sized rodents
- This family includes all 265 species of squirrel that can be found worldwide
- The only country worldwide where squirrel species do not reside in Australia
- The UK is home to the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), and more recently the grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) which is classed as an invasive species
- Squirrels, like members of the mustelid family, communicate with one another via scent but also use vocalisations when under threat
- Grey squirrels are believed to have been introduced to the UK in the late 1800s and are now widespread throughout UK woodland
- Greys squirrels are thought to have risen to prominence partly due to their ability to withstand squirrel pox – a disease that is fatal to UK native red squirrels
- Grey squirrels are now so widespread that a series of controversial culls have taken place to control their populations
- Squirrels are very well known to ‘store nuts for winter’ – and survive harsher weather conditions by gathering nuts and seeds during the Autumn and concealing them for when food sources are scarce
- Their diet consists mostly of nuts and seeds, but when food is particularly scarce, squirrels may also eat small insects and eggs
- Due to its ecology, the squirrel has long been a symbol of thriftiness in Native American culture.