Saturday, 7 December 2013

Red Squirrel Numbers on the up in Northumberland

I am a big supporter of the work that local volunteers, conservationists, landowners and the Forestry Commission are doing to work together to restore red squirrels to the woodlands around Hexham, Corbridge and Slaley in Northumberland. I have met with many of the teams and hope to see some of this good work in action at some stage in the new year.

This part of Northumberland was once home to thriving populations of red squirrels, but in the last decade, non-native grey squirrels have taken over - spreading the deadly squirrel pox virus and dramatically reducing red squirrel numbers. Immediate and wide-scale action is needed to protect the remaining red squirrels. Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE) is now working with Stocksfield - based estate management company Land Factor to protect the precious red squirrels in the area.

With the support of local landowners, RSNE has secured £300,000 for the next five years, through the Forestry Commission’s English Woodland Grant Scheme, for red squirrel conservation in the Hexham area. This scheme has been assisting crucial red squirrel conservation efforts across northern England since 2007.

The amazing funding boost will contribute towards employing a full time Red Squirrel Ranger and seasonal contractors, to work across 3,000 hectares of woodland around the areas Hexham, Corbridge and Slaley.

Red Squirrel Northern England is already seeing the benefits of its conservation work in Slaley Forest, a woodland covering an area of approx. 14 sq. kilometres, 8 miles south of Hexham. Paul Greener, RSNE Red Squirrel Ranger, has been trapping grey squirrels in the Forestry Commission-owned woodlands since March 2013. In the first few months of his work, Paul counted himself very lucky if he ever saw a red squirrel in the Forest, however, now, after a concerted trapping effort, he sees red squirrels on his rounds every day which is such an achievement

Margaret Bates, leader of the volunteer Slaley Red Squirrel Group, has been delighted with the results so far, she says: “Slaley Red Squirrel Group find it very encouraging to have received a 50% increase in red squirrel sightings during 2013, compared to the last two years which I believe are down to a combination of kinder weather, landowner support and great relations between RSNE and its volunteers.”
So, with a New Year around the corner in a little over five weeks’ time, there is great hope that visitors to the woodlands around Hexham will once again be rewarded by the sight of the wonderful and endearing native red squirrel.

Anybody wanting to find out more about red squirrel conservation in Hexham and its surrounding woodlands should email Red Squirrel Officer Emma Wright at emma.wright@rsne.org.uk or telephone her on: 01661 844795

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