What are the differences between red and grey squirrels?
The only squirrel species native to the UK.
The red squirrel has a white stomach and chest, with fur ranging in colour from almost black to chestnut or light brown. They have long ear tufts but these may be missing in summer.
Reds eat mainly tree seeds but also buds, flowers and shoots of deciduous and coniferous trees. Fruits, berries, caterpillars, fungi and even birds’ eggs also feature in their diet.
Red squirrels live in conifer forests and broadleaved woodlands.
Introduced to the UK in 19th Century.
As the name suggests, the grey squirrel's fur is mainly grey but with a white underside. Tail hairs are grey with a characteristic white fringe. Greys do not have ear tufts.
Greys share a large number of food sources with red squirrels; however, they can also eat seeds with high tannin content (such as acorns) which red squirrels cannot digest.
Greys can be found in oak, beech, sweet-chestnut, horse-chestnut, sycamore and conifer woodlands.
What are the main threats facing red squirrels?
The main threat to red squirrels is the spread of the invasive non-native grey squirrel. Grey squirrels compete more successfully than red squirrels for food and habitat, they are larger and more robust, and can digest seeds with high tannin content, such as acorns, more efficiently.
Habitat loss has also contributed to the red squirrel’s decline. Habitat loss and fragmentation occurs when areas of woodland are destroyed or become separated by development and changing land-use. This leads to isolated areas which cannot sustain viable populations of wildlife, including red squirrels.
The squirrelpox virus is fatal to red squirrels but is carried by grey squirrels without causing them any harm.
What is the squirrel pox and what is being done about it?
This virus, carried by grey squirrels without causing them harm, is fatal to red squirrels. The virus produces scabs in and around the eyes, nose, mouth, feet, ears and genitalia. The infected squirrel is very quickly unable to see or to feed properly and rapidly becomes malnourished. The disease is highly virulent in red squirrels and kills within 15 days of infection. Squirrelpox is present in southern Scotland.
A vaccine against squirrelpox is in development but it could be many years before this is available in the affordable and easily dispensable form necessary to assist red squirrel conservation.
At this time, to protect red squirrels from infection with squirrelpox it is necessary to use targeted and co-ordinated grey squirrel control to keep densities of grey squirrel very low in carefully chosen target areas in south Scotland. The project’s earlier work has shown that this approach can work to help red squirrels not only to survive, but to thrive, even returning to some areas from which they had been absent for many years.
What is being done to protect red squirrels in Scotland?
Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is a project to stop the decline of Scotland’s core red squirrel populations by combating the further spread of the non-native grey squirrel into areas that are currently home only to red squirrels and working closely with local communities to improve conditions for red squirrels across Scotland.
Phase Three of the project runs over two years, from 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2016, and aims to:
Sustain red squirrel populations north of the Central Lowlands and in key areas of south Scotland
Manage the impact of the deadly squirrelpox virus as it spreads gradually northwards
Evolve a long-term, cost effective means of controlling the spread of the non-native grey squirrel
Secure greater participation by landowners and volunteers in our grey squirrel control effort
Continue to monitor red and grey squirrel distributions across Scotland
What is being done to protect red squirrels in Northern England?
What is being done to protect red squirrels in Northern Ireland?
What is being done to protect red squirrels in Wales?
What is being done to protect red squirrels in South West England?
Do pine martens help control grey squirrel populations?
A research project in Ireland has shown that the recovering Irish pine marten population is causing the grey squirrel to decline in range and numbers, with a complete recovery of red squirrels following rapidly.
A new project has been launched by the University of Aberdeen to investigate whether the same effect is occurring in Scotland in areas where the pine marten is recovering, where differences in ecological conditions may make the outcome different to that in Ireland. The project will run until the end of 2017 and is led by Dr Emma Sheehy and Professor Xavier Lambin. See the link to the Vincent Trust for more information.
What can I safely feed to red squirrels and when should I do so?
There are a few things to be aware if you are going to feed red squirrels, so that the supplementary feeding doesn't inadvertently harm the squirrels.
Feed them natural food- peanuts, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, the list goes on. Basically the more varied the seeds and nuts the better.
Add in some healthy stuff like apple and carrot now and again- they need their vitamins and minerals too!
Get hold of a piece of deer antler and fix this to a tree. This will be nibbled away by the squirrels as it is a fantastic source of calcium. Noone ever believes us about this, but it's true!
Keep all feeders clean! The last thing you want is for squirrels to be picking up diseases from your feeders. Use the same broad spectrum disinfectants widely available for cleaning bird feeders.
Feed all year. Summer is actually the time when there is least natural food for squirrels, so don't just feed in winter.
Feed grey squirrels. The last thing we need is to give the non-native grey a helping hand.
Encourage reds to cross a busy road to get to your feeders. This is a big issue, better leave them to fend for themselves than increase their chance of getting hit on the road.
Feed them just peanuts. If they eat too many peanuts they can end up with calcium deficiency (see above for tips on providing calcium).
Can I introduce red squirrels to my area?
It has been agreed that Red Squirrels can be re-introduced in the UK as long as the IUCN charter is followed.
The IUCN Charter requires that:
There is sufficient habitat and food available for the red squirrel
Since there is no vaccine available to protect the red squirrel from the grey squirrel carried Squirrel Parapox Virus, then there must be evidence that the local grey squirrel population is not carrying the Squirrel Parapox Virus.
How do I report a squirrel sighting?
How can I tell if a red squirrel is suffering from disease and how can I report it?
The facial features can get distorted and you can report it to your local squirrel organisation
What is the best time of day to see red squirrels?
Red Squirrels are seen at most times of the day.