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Call for Islanders to help local red squirrel population

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ISLANDERS are being urged to help protect Jersey’s red squirrel population – after a major new study found that the species is facing extinction in the UK.

Picture: Annie Quérée

The animal is among 12 that have been placed on the first ‘red list’ for wild mammals in the UK, meaning it is ‘threatened’ and faces being wiped out within a decade.

However, although the future looks bleak for reds in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the exact size of the local population is not known.

The UK report did not cover Jersey, but the last local study, which was carried out in 1998, estimated that there were between 400 and 600 red squirrels in the Island. A red squirrel action plan was later launched, which resulted in 35,000 trees being planted between 1998 and 2002 to improve wildlife corridors. Islanders were also encouraged to feed the animals, which were introduced to Jersey by local naturalists in 1885. Nina Cornish, research ecologist at the Environment Department, said that Islanders could play their part in helping to safeguard the future of red squirrels in Jersey.

‘We don’t know the current size of the population. However, based on sightings through the Jersey Biodiversity Centre, which records wildlife sightings, we know they are distributed more widely than they were before.

‘This is a result of the tree planting scheme and the efforts to encourage people to feed the squirrels,’ she said.

‘The biggest threat to red squirrels locally is road traffic accidents and disease. In partnership with the JSPCA we have been running a monitoring programme where we encourage people who see ill or dead squirrels to report them to the charity so they can check for any disease.

‘People can also help by putting out food and ensuring that their feeders are cleaned regularly to prevent the spread of disease,’ she added.

The UK study, carried out by The Mammal Society and Natural England, found that almost one in five British mammals was at risk of extinction.

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Three species – the wildcat, the greater mouse-eared bat and the black rat – were given the highest threat level of ‘critically endangered’.

The red squirrel, along with the beaver, water vole and grey long-eared bat, had the second-highest ranking of ‘endangered’.

One of the biggest threats to the UK red squirrel population is the non-native grey squirrel, which competes fiercely for food and carries a disease which can kill the reds. Greys have never been introduced to Jersey.

Red squirrels, which are still common in parts of Wales and the Lake District, have also suffered from a loss of habitat.

Richard Heath

By Richard Heath
author

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