Reintroducing pine martens to help conserve native red squirrels in Britain and Ireland

May 22nd, 2018

A recent article by Iloma Amos in The Scotsman discusses how releasing pine martens can help keep numbers of alien grey squirrels down, which in turn allows native red squirrels to prosper.

Whole-genome data from tree squirrel species required

May 17th, 2018

Can you help? Nancy Moncrief from the Virginia Museum of Natural History, USA carries out research on the morphology and genetics of North American Sciurus tree squirrels. Nancy is currently looking at a whole-genome study on Sciurus carolinensis and S. niger and is seeking data from a third tree squirrel species. but there is nothing on Genbank. So, if you are or know of someone who is doing such work, then Nancy would be pleased to hear from you – contact details can be found on her web page (

More evidence that the spread of pine martens may help red squirrels in Britain

March 7th, 2018

A recent paper by Emma Sheehy and colleagues (Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 2018) has provided empirical evidence that, as pine martens extend their range in the north of Britain, alien grey squirrel numbers fall. In contrast, native red squirrel populations are not affected and can recover from the competitive effects of grey squirrels. This work supports the earlier studies carried out in Ireland by Emma Sheehy and shows the benefits of pine martens, not only to red squirrels, but also to reducing the economic costs of damage to trees carried out by grey squirrels. (The Guardian, The Scotsman, Mail Online, The Times, BBC News).

Are alien grey squirrels cleverer than native red squirrels in Britain?

February 21st, 2018

A recent paper published in the scientific journal Animal Behaviour by Pizza Chow and colleagues has demonstrated that alien grey squirrels are slightly better than native red squirrels at solving certain problems involving the removal of hazelnuts from transparent plastic containers. The study has attracted a lot of attention in the media (International Business Times, UPI, Sky News, Channel 103, Mail Online, Metro), and there is the suggestion that the greater behavioural flexibility of grey squirrels may have contributed to their replacement of red squirrels throughout much of Britain. Whilst this is an intriguing thought, further comparative studies are needed of red and grey squirrels living in comparable habitats in Britain, and maybe also of grey squirrels from their native homeland in North America, to understand the relative problem-solving and competitive abilities of the two species.

Scotland’s red squirrels holding their own

February 20th, 2018

A 2017 survey by Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) has indicated that red squirrels in Scotland have stabilised throughout much of the country, although there are regional differences. For example, there have been gains in the north-east around Aberdeen where grey squirrels have been extensively culled, and gains around Loch Lomand and the Trossachs National Park, but few red squirrels are now seen in Berwickshire in the south. The full report by Mahboobeh Shirkhorshidi and Mel Tonkin is available to download (also see The Scotsman, the Mail Online, Pressreader). SSRS was awarded a £2.4m National Lottery grant last year towards the conservation of red squirrels in Scotland.

“Daily Politics” – to control or not control grey squirrels in UK

February 1st, 2018

Recently the UK Government has stressed out the need to control grey squirrels to prevent bark-stripping damage to trees. The BBC Programme, Daily Politics,  debated the issue on 30/1/18 with Craig Shuttleworth from Bangor University, and Natalia Doran from the group Urban Squirrels (see a clip BBC News).

New forest in Northumberland could benefit red squirrels

December 5th, 2017

A new 354 ha forest is to be planted at Doddington North Moor, in Northumberland in the north of England over the next two to three years. The Forestry Commission have approved plans for planting >600,000 trees,; these will include 146 ha of Sitka spruce, 72 ha of native broadleaves and 46 ha of Scots pine/native broadleaves. The site is within the Kyloe red squirrel reserve buffer zone, and the new forest will benefit the red squirrels in 15 to 20 years time when the conifers start to produce seed. (See Doddington North Afforestation ProjectThe Telegraph, The Independent, Confor, Smallholder).

Squirrel turns off Xmas lights in New Jersey

December 4th, 2017

Police in Sea Girt, New Jersey apprehended a squirrel on Saturday morning accused of vandalising the annual Christmas Lights display (IBTimes, India, UK PressFrom, MSN). Whilst this probably results from some cheeky wire nibbling by the grey squirrel; the picture of what looks suspiciously like a Eurasian red squirrel that accompanies some of these reports is rather worrying!

Red squirrels moved to NW Scotland doing well

November 13th, 2017

Over 80 red squirrels moved from various parts of Scotland to areas in the north west Highlands which did not have squirrels, are doing well and starting to spread into new areas (BBC News). The relocations were first carried out in spring 2016 and spring 2017. The project is led by Trees for Life.

Vikings, squirrels and leprosy

November 1st, 2017

Studies on a ~1000-year-old skull of a Medieval woman from Hoxne in the East of England by scientists from the University of Cambridge, showed signs that she had suffered from leprosy. Similar signs of the same strain of leprosy have been found in skeletal remains from Denmark and Sweden from the same period. It is believed that the leprosy bacteria could have been transmitted to England from Europe on red squirrel meat and skins, traded by the Vikings at this time. Leprosy is believed to have been common in the British Isles for hundreds of years. In the early parts of this century, leprosy was identified in red squirrels from Scotland, and from  the Isle of Wight and Brownsea Island off the coast of southern England. The strain of leprosy is similar to that in the Hoxne woman. The original paper was published in the Journal of Microbiology and has since been widely reported (e.g. BBC News, Forbes, Hospital Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Daily Mail Online). Although thought to have died out over 200 years ago, cases of leprosy continue to be reported in the UK (The Telegraph).

*Avanzi, C., del-Pozo, J., Benjak, A., Stevenson, K., Simpson, V. R., Busso, P., . . . Meredith, A. L. (2016). Red squirrels in the British Isles are infected with leprosy bacilli. Science, 354(6313), 744-747. doi:10.1126/science.aah3783

**Inskip, S., Taylor, G. M., Anderson, S., & Stewart, G. (2017). Leprosy in pre-Norman Suffolk, UK: biomolecular and geochemical analysis of the woman from Hoxne. Journal of Medical Microbiology, 66(11), 1640-1649. doi:doi:10.1099/jmm.0.000606


Rawlcliffe, Carole (2016)Leprosy in Medieval England. 440 pages. Boydell & Brewer, UK.