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Squirrel population thriving – but how many are there?

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THE life of the Island’s red squirrels is fraught with dangers from escaping the clutches of domestic cats and crossing the road without being killed, but a 20-year conservation programme appears to be paying off.

A red squirrel captured mid flight at Jersey Zoo

Unlike its UK cousins who are being wiped out by grey squirrels, the Island’s red squirrel population appears to be thriving – but no one knows just how many there are.

Fortunately there are no grey squirrels in Jersey where the greatest threat to the reds comes from cats, birds of prey, traffic and disease.

In 1999 government and environmental groups embarked on a hedge-planting initiative to encourage isolated colonies, at risk from in-breeding, to widen their horizons and get acquainted.

Two decades later and red squirrels can be found Islandwide and an initial estimated population of 400 to 600 is believed to now exceed 1,000. In the absence of thorough scientific research, Islanders are being called on to get squirrel watching and report their findings – even if the creatures they see are ill or dead.

Nina Cornish is a research ecologist at Growth, Housing and Environment’s Natural Environment department. She said although they work closely with the JSPCA, which monitors the health of the Island’s red squirrels, and the Jersey Biodiversity Centre – that collects information about all aspects of local wildlife – help is needed.

‘We are asking the public to contact the JSPCA if they see or find any sick or dead squirrels,’ Ms Cornish said.

‘That is how we are able to test them for any signs of disease. The public are also asked to report squirrel sightings to the Jersey Biodiversity Centre so we can build up a picture of squirrel activity utilising citizen science. The hedgerow planting that began in 1999, and the Jersey Trees for Life hedgerow campaign have proved to be really valuable and important – and there is still more to do.

‘There are lots of areas of woodlands where squirrels live that can still be connected through planting hedges for wildlife corridors between populations and not just for the benefit of the red squirrel but for other species of wildlife.’

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The plight of the red squirrel in the UK is so dire that earlier this month it warranted a debate in the House of Commons.

Populations are currently estimated at approximately 140,000 red squirrels and 2.5 million greys, with about 15,000 only clinging on in small pockets of England.

The grey is widely accepted as the main reason for the decline of the red squirrel as it consistently comes out top in the competition for food and habitats and it transmits the squirrel pox virus, which is fatal for red squirrels.

lNews Focus: Page 8.

Full report on page XXX

Paula Thelwell

By Paula Thelwell
author

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