Their numbers have been dwindling for decades, with many people losing hope for the survival of the species. However, all is not lost – hard-working charities and volunteers haven’t given up and, this year, they’re pushing for a huge conservation attempt.
The red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris in Latin, if you care) is a breed of squirrel native to Britain, with which this site shares a name. Though they were here (in Britain) before grey squirrels, they’ve been outdone and outnumbered, with their population decreasing despite human attempts at intervening.
Why? Well, according to the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, grey squirrels are “almost twice the weight”, meaning they need to eat a lot more. Since they’re also more competitive and aggressive, red squirrels have a hard time getting enough food. As well as this, they’re at a large risk of contracting smallpox from grey squirrels. The Red Squirrel Survival Trust claims that roughly two thirds of grey squirrels have antibodies for the virus – not that they need them, as infection doesn’t cause “any symptoms or adverse effects”. However, red squirrels are not so lucky and infection is “almost always fatal”.
In February, The Wildlife Trusts acquired funding and made a huge push for the red squirrels. Aiming to increase their number of volunteers from 500 to 5000, they continue to provide hope for the species. Volunteers are needed for various reasons, with The Wildlife Trusts listing “gathering information”, “setting up camera traps” and “teaching the public and schoolchildren”, amongst others.
Controversially, volunteers who are willing are also asked to assist in the culling of grey squirrels. In an article by The Guardian, the programme manager of Red Squirrels United, Dr. Cathleen Thomas, said “we have very strict animal welfare guidelines. Nobody does it happily but it’s one or the other [reds or greys].”
Many disagree with any form of culling, but it sometimes seems necessary in order to provide balance for various creatures.
While it could be argued that we shouldn’t get involved because it’s the way nature works, it’s actually our fault that the issue started in the first place. In the 19th century, the Victorians imported grey squirrels from North America. The grey squirrels soon invaded red squirrel territory, driving them out and putting their species in danger.
The future of the red squirrel seems uncertain but, as long as people volunteer, they’ll continue to survive.
If you’d like to volunteer, or for more information on how you can get involved, read about volunteering with Red Squirrels United