Saving the native Red Squirrel.
At the beginning of 2001 great efforts had been underway to help save the native Red Squirrel in the Isle of Wight. This 15 year project planned to arrest the decline of the native Squirrel species and it's natural habitat. The Isle of Wight is one of the few remaining area's of the United Kingdom where Grey Squirrels have not overtaken the native species.
The European Red Squirrel known by it's Latin name Sciurus vulgaris and the American Red Squirrel Tamiasciurus hudsonicus both are known as Red Squirrels in their respective locations. They should not be confused as the same animal as they have different traits and characteristics not seen in its transatlantic namesake.
Red Squirrel Facts
- Red Squirrel's measure between 17-25 cm and have tails of around 15-20 cm in length.
- A Red Squirrel has a lifespan of 3 years.
- Red Squirrel's hide excess food in the ground or in hollows of tree's
- The long tail is used for balance
- Red Squirrel's have two changes of coat a year.
- Red and Grey Squirrel's cannot cross breed.
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The Isle of Wight is now the only region in the British Isles where Red Squirrel's live in native broad leaf woodland. In Scotland there is protected populations of the Red Squirrel but they have competition from Grey Squirrels and live in an environment which is not their natural habitat. In the rest of the United Kingdom there are small population's scattered by the Grey Squirrel's introduction.
The Isle of Wight is home to a number of initiatives to ensure the survival of this increasingly rare creature. The Isle of Wight lays about 4 miles of the coast of Hampshire, England.The more dominant Grey Squirrel out muscles and out competes with it's smaller British cousin on the mainland. The Red Squirrel population is seen as vital for the continued survival of the Islands ancient woodlands that it lives in. Backed up with funding from the Department of the Environment and the European Union. A joint project headed by English Nature and the Forestry Commission, looks to preserve the natural environment for the Squirrel.
To do this the group has planted over 200 hectares of disused land with new woodland stock and improved the condition of the natural Grasslands to encourage bio-diversity. By listening to the advice of other groups concerned to the Red Squirrel's survival, the group has re-planted Hazel tree's to assist the native population with their preferred foodstuff. The type of tree's planted are designed to provide the Squirrels with food through most of the year.
The local population of the Isle of Wight took to the campaign to save the native Red Squirrel, as it is a source of their regional identity. Even the transit companies embraced the cause, they tightened their baggage and freight security checks for the Grey Squirrel. The Grey Squirrel carries a disease which does not effect the Grey Squirrel but it fatal to the Red Squirrel.
Besides the replanting of the native woodland, the project is aiming to increase the woodland area to 20% of the area. In 2001 the woodland area was only 10% of the Island. The estimated numbers of the Red Squirrel were believed to be around 2,000 at the start of the initiative, by 2012 the figures had almost doubled to 4,000. The measures imposed by the authorities for releasing a Grey Squirrel into the Island are high, the punishment includes fines and the chance of a custodial sentence. The cost of the program was £1.6 million and the introduction of a Grey Squirrel could jeopardize the effort.
A positive impact from the Red Squirrel population increasing is the increase in wild life tourism to the Island. It is doubtful the humble Red Squirrel can compete with watching the Lion's in Africa or cage diving with a Great White Shark. The Squirrel could prove to be a good draw for those who wish to see this intelligent and agile creature in it's native environment.
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