There have been several recent reports in the media of a family of at least four white ‘grey’ squirrels living in the Barnton area of Edinburgh, Scotland. White morphs, which are not the same as alibinos with red eyes, result from a gene mutation that codes for pigmentation. They are rare in the UK. See: BBC News; The Scotsman; Edinburgh Evening News; Angle News; World News Metro
An EU funded and National Lottery Sciurus Life project is launched that will enable local communities across the north of England and Wales to become involved in conserving the red squirrel. The Sciurius Life project aims are to:
- Develop mechanisms to prevent the unintentional introduction of grey squirrels to currently uncolonised woodland landscapes;
- Develop early warning/rapid response mechanisms to ensure the island of Anglesey in North Wales is not recolonised;
- Develop rapid response mechanisms to mitigate the impacts of grey squirrels in urban woodlands with high biodiversity and tourism value;
- Develop early warning systems to detect grey squirrels in sparsely populated rural landscapes;
- Develop more efficient strategic mechanisms to evolve community-based grey squirrel management;
- Quantify the financial and community-based resources needed to achieve regional eradication;
- Share knowledge gained across the EU;
- Use knowledge exchange and trust building processes to aid the development of a broader invasive alien species management;
- Test the impact of measures to increase public awareness and community capacity associated with grey squirrel management;
- Inform the development of a long-term management framework for grey squirrels in the UK.
Several cases of a strain of leprosy bacteria were found in red squirrels in Scotland in 2014 and it may have been present in squirrel populations for a long time. Leprosy has also been identified in squirrels from the Isle of Wight, and Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour off the south coast of England. Brownsea Island is owned by the National Trust and Dorset Wildlife Trust and holds about 200 red squirrels. Studies on the island to get a better understanding of the disease and how to manage it are about to start under the direction of Professor Anna Meredith of the University of Edinburgh. Although there is “negligible risk” to the public from the disease, visitors to the island are advised not to touch any wild animals and birds and maintain good hygiene practices such as hand washing. (BBC News, BT, ITV, Independent, The Guardian).
The Manx Government is running a public consultation until 27 April 2016 on whether red squirrels should be released onto the island. Red squirrels have never been native to the island and if the decision to release is ‘yes’, then a licence under the Wildlife Act 1990 would be required. Details can be found on the Official Isle of Man Government website. Views differ as to whether it would be a good idea or not – see BBC News 1, BBC News 2, Rosie Bowman Wildlife Article, IOM Today, The Countryside Restoration Trust.
A new Caledonian Forest Wildlife Project in Scotland involving Trees for Life and the Highland Foundation for Wildlife plans to translocate red squirrels from thriving populations in Moray and Inverness to 10 new locations – these sites still to be confirmed. The Project will be funded by a grant of £61,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (see BBC News). Elsewhere in Scotland (e.g. Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, Ayrshire, and the north-east of Scotland), numbers of red squirrels are said to be increasing (see The Scotsman), but the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels Project (also see SNH website) indicate that conservation work will be needed for many years to secure the future of the iconic species in Scotland.
A new book on the ecology, conservation and management of red squirrels has recently been published by the European Squirrel Initiative: Shuttleworth, C., Lurz, P., & Hayward, M. (2015) Red Squirrels: Ecology, Conservation & Management in Europe, 328 pp. European Squirrel Initiative, Woodbridge, Suffolk UK. Full details of the contents of the book can be found on the Publications page. Requests for copies of the book should be sent to ESI.
A recent article in The Washington Post describes a species of ground squirrel in Borneo that jumps on unsuspecting muntjac deer and rips open its jugular vein. After the deer has bled out, the squirrel apparently feeds on its heart, stomach and liver, but not the flesh. The story concerns the antics of the tufted ground squirrel (Reithrosciurus macrotis) and is based on a paper entitled Tall tales of a tropical squirrel by Emily Meijaard, Rona Dennis & Erik Meijaard, published in Taprobanica: The Journal of Asian Biodiversity. In addition to its rumoured carnivorous habits and other squirrels that are said to actively hunt birds and animals, the authors consider the affinity of the tufted ground squirrel and the possible functions of its very large, bushy tail.
The Italian newspaper La Zampa – La Stampa (Turin) have published an interesting article saying that both France and Switzerland have warned Italy that there will be a diplomatic ‘war’ if they find a single grey squirrel in their territory. Time will tell!
The debate about whether grey squirrels should be controlled has recently come into focus again on the BBC’s Breakfast TV programme. Grey squirrels are already controlled to minimise damage to trees and for red squirrel conservation but apparently the UK Government is considering whether more needs to be done. The arguments for and against are emotive and do not appear to have changed over the years.
A new disease threat has recently been identified in red squirrels from Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland (BBC Scotland). Six animals have been found infected with a bacteria similar to Mycobacterium lepromatosis which causes leprosy. Signs of the disease are swollen nose, eyelids, ears and feet. Prof Anna Meredith from the Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh and colleagues are trying to find out more about this little understood, potentially fatal condition. Members of the public who find dead red squirrels in Scotland can send them to the Veterinary Pathology Unit, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Edinburgh. Further details of where to send carcasses found in England and Wales as well as Scotland, and postage and packaging, can be found towards the bottom of this web page. Members of the public are advised to follow basic hygiene rules when handling dead animals.