The ecology of red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) in the west of Ireland, with a view to potential translocation opportunities to uninhabited areas of Connemara

Alan Poole

Since the introduction of the American grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) to Ireland, the native red squirrel has been in decline. Red squirrels have disappeared from large areas in the east of Ireland, where the greys are prevalent. Typically the reds are out-competed by the greys in broadleaved and mixed conifer areas. The greys have yet to move into the west of Ireland, with the River Shannon acting as a formidable barrier. In the Connemara area of County Galway, there are large mixed coniferous woodlands, uninhabited by either species of squirrel that could potentially offer the red squirrel a safe haven for the future. These woodlands offer suitable habitat for the reds, and are isolated to such a degree that the greys are unlikely to reach them, even if the Shannon is breached. If red squirrels can be successfully translocated into these untapped habitats their status in Ireland may be assured.

This study aims to expand our knowledge of the ecology of the red squirrel in Ireland and if feasible, introduce red squirrels into a large coniferous woodland. This work will be conducted in three main phases. In the first phase work will be carried out on the ecology of the red squirrel in potential source woodlands to identify requirements for a sustained viable red squirrel population. The next phase involves identifying potential target woodlands that meet the requirements identified in phase one. The final phase will involve the moving of a small population of squirrels from a suitable viable source population. Initially the red squirrels will be placed in a conditioning pen for a number of weeks. Once released, supplementary feeding will continue for an extended period. Finally the released population will be monitored using live trapping and radio collars to determine the success of the introduction.

Some success has been achieved with translocation projects in Britain, and the aim is to improve on their techniques and success rate, and to develop translocation procedures specifically suitable for the unique squirrel fauna in Ireland. This study will be carried out under consultation with fellow squirrel researchers in Ireland, members of the British Mammal Society and the Northern Ireland Squirrel Forum. Translocation work will take place in consultation with Coillte, and the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government.

I am based in the Department of Zoology, National University of Ireland, Galway, and can be contacted at 

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