More than 110 volunteers in the North of England are working very hard to track progress of the country’s largest red squirrel conservation project.
In coming months, the volunteers, affectionately referred to as the Red Army, will go to more than 270 woodlands in Northumberland, Cumbria, Lancashire, Durham and North Yorkshire to establish exactly which type of squirrels are living in them.
The Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE) conservation partnership is leading the project and guiding the volunteers. Adam Seward an RSNE Research Officer who is co-ordinator of the monitoring project, said: “We are grateful to all the volunteers helping us with this enormous survey and will make sure this information is quickly analysed, published and used to inform grey squirrel control activity in red squirrel areas.”
A number of monitoring techniques – all standardised – are being used in the monitoring project. These include visual counts while walking though woodlands to the use of remote cameras. Sticky pads are also being used in all woodlands to trap squirrel hairs. The hairs are later examined under a microscope to determine which squirrel species they belong to.
The study information will enable the creation of an important baseline that will be used to measure the success of efforts to further conserve the red squirrel population. The baseline information will be published in June 2012 and the monitoring programme will be repeated bi-annually in future years and decades.
The maintenance and expansion of red squirrel range in northern England over time will become visible through the repeated monitoring information. This will give all those contributing to red squirrel conservation a fantastic boost.
Mike Allport, a volunteer from Wooler, Northumberland who is involved in the survey, said: “Local volunteer groups in Wooler and Berwick are delighted to be helping out, particularly as we know this information will be immediately used to target grey squirrel control efforts.”
Staff from RSNE would also greatly welcome sightings of red squirrels from anyone who sees them over the next two months in northern England. Sightings can be quickly and easily submitted on-line at www.rsne.org.uk/sightings and will help to fill in gaps in its formal survey network.
The partners in RSNE are the Northumberland, Cumbria, Lancashire, Durham and North Yorkshire Wildlife Trusts, Forestry Commission, Natural England and the Red Squirrel Survival Trust. The project also works alongside the volunteer community (group members of the Northern Red Squirrel Network) and private landowners to achieve its objectives. The main funder of the programme is Biffaward.