New studies on the origins of melanism in grey squirrels

August 14th, 2019

A wild melanic (black/dark brown) introduced grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) was first seen in the UK in Woburn, Bedfordshire in 1912. It is now believed there may be as many as 25,000 in East Anglia. Recently published research by Helen McRobie from Anglia Ruskin University UK, and colleagues from USA, Nancy Moncrief and Nicholas Mundy, suggest that a pigment gene for black fur found in  grey squirrels may have originated in North America from interbreeding with the closely related and sympatric Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) which carries the gene – see Publications for full reference. (Fox squirrels have not been introduced to the UK.) Melanic squirrels are common in North America and black fur may offer a thermal advantage enabling squirrels to inhabit regions with very cold winters (tree squirrels are active all winter and do not hibernate). (BBC News, Peterborough Telegraph, Mail Online, The Telegraph, Evening Express Metro, Scitech Europe). Of note is that melanism also occurs in native red squirrels Sciurus vulgaris, especially in mountainous and high latitude regions in Eurasia.

Outbreaks of lethal squirrelpox virus in red squirrels in the North of England and Scotland

June 19th, 2019

Outbreaks of squirrelpox virus in red squirrels have recently been reported in Dumfries and Galloway in southern Scotland (Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, Daily Record), and Northumberland  (The Journal) and Penrith (ITV) in the north of England. Grey squirrels carry the virus without obvious signs, but red squirrels that become infected develop lesions to their faces, limbs and bodies and usually die within two weeks; this can lead to a decline or loss of local populations. If people see sick red squirrels, they should report them to local or regional red squirrel groups (see Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, Red Squirrels Northern England), and in areas of overlap between red and grey squirrels, it is advisable not to put out food to minimise the possibility of the virus being transmitted from grey squirrels to red squirrels.

All-Ireland Citizen Science survey of red and grey squirrels and pine martens launched

March 14th, 2019

Members of the public are invited to take part in an All-Ireland Citizen Science survey of pine martens and red and grey squirrels. The survey, organised by researchers from the Ryan Institute in NUI Galway and the Ulster Wildlife and Vincent Wildlife Trust, aims to record sightings during 2019. There is evidence, notably from the Midlands, that the spread of pine martens has led to a decrease in the numbers of grey squirrels allowing red squirrels to return to their former haunts. The last survey of this kind was carried out in 2012 and it will be interesting to see if the changing pattern of distribution of the three species is continuing.  Further information and guidance on submitting records can be found on the National Biodiversity Data Centre website. It has also been widely reported in the Irish press: Green NewsIrish WorldMidlands 103, RTEUlster Wildlife.

Invasive Alien Species Order 2019

February 25th, 2019

From 29th March 2019, the EU Invasive Alien Species Order 2019 will take effect. As a result, Government Agencies will not issue licences that allow “invasive” species taken into captivity because they were injured or orphaned, such as grey squirrels or muntjac deer, to be looked after or released back into the wild. This will affect rescue centres and vets, and has angered many people who care for or take an interest in wildlife (The Mirror, The TimesIndependent – with respect to grey squirrel control, also see The Guardian, The Telegraph.)

Plans to reintroduce red squirrels into eastern England

December 28th, 2018

Shaun Morris, a farmer from East Yorkshire, England says he will breed animals in Holderness, an area in East Riding, and release them into woodland which he owns (BBC News).

Sign the petition to amend the 1967 Forestry Act to protect wildlife

December 3rd, 2018

Craig Shuttleworth, one of the country’s leading experts on red and grey squirrels and the driving force behind the return of red squirrels to the Isle of Anglesey off the northwest coast of Wales, is promoting a petition to amend the 1967 Forestry Act. The story is simple: under the Act, felling licenses cannot be refused to protect wildlife or conditions added to a licence to mitigate the effects of felling on wildlife (including red squirrels, common dormice, bats and great-crested newts). To add your signature, go to Also see Nation.Cymru.

Camera trap set for red squirrels in Kielder Forest in the north of England captures images of a pine marten

August 17th, 2018

A camera trap set in Kielder Forest, part of a red squirrel monitoring survey in the area, has captured pictures of a pine marten. This provides evidence that pine martens are returning to northern England and bodes well for the red squirrel (Shropshire Star).

Evidence that squirrel bridges work

August 17th, 2018

Camera traps have shown that red squirrels are using a squirrel bridge built over the A896 in Wester Ross, Scotland. The bridge was installed by Trees for Life last June; evidence collected so far indicates the number of red squirrels killed on the roads in the area has declined. (The Scotsman, Trees for Life).

Red squirrel dies in abandoned plastic jar

July 29th, 2018

The problems of plastic pollution and their horrific effects on the environment have been highlighted in recent months, with many examples of animals from whales, dolphins, fish and turtles to deer and birds that have been directly affected by discarded plastic. Recently, a red squirrel was found by a busy road in Scotland (A939 near Candacraig) that had died after becoming entrapped in an abandoned plastic jar. BBC News, STV News, Mail OnlineThe Scottish Sun, Evening Express. This unfortunate occurrence clearly demonstrates that plants and animals everywhere are directly or indirectly affected by plastic pollution.

Red squirrels in Bangor, North Wales on the increase

July 23rd, 2018

Despite an outbreak of squirrelpox virus (SPQV) in 2017, red squirrels in the city of Bangor in North Wales have increased in 2018. SQPV is carried by grey squirrels and invariably fatal to red squirrels (The Bangor Aye). Red Squirrels Trust Wales has embarked on a project (Painting the Town Red) to rid the city and 1500 ha in the surrounding area of grey squirrels, so encouraging the return of the native squirrel. This is part of a major red squirrel conservation
initiative being carried out in North Wales. Following the successful eradication of grey squirrels and red squirrel conservation work carried out on the Isle of Anglesey since 1997, red squirrels were first noticed to have crossed from the island to the mainland and colonised several woods in the county of Gwynedd in 2008. Red Squirrels Trust Wales and Natural resources Wales have embarked on a programme of grey squirrels control in 165 sq km of Gywnedd as part of an EU Life14 funded project NAT/UK/000467 – Sciurious LIFE. Organisations in the North of Wales are now considering whether to release captive bred pine martens in Bangor and northern Gwynedd to help control grey squirrels (Bangor Aye).