The Plight of Squirrel Nutkins-the Red Squirrel.

Red Sqirrel

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Endangered Mammals of the Uk

More years ago than I care to remember, as a young naturalist discovering the countryside and its inhabitants it was not unusual to see the animal , Immortalized in children's books,-the red squirrel. Now decades later I would have to visit the woodlands of Cumbria and Northumberland or travel across the border into Scotland to see this beautiful animal in the wild occurring naturally in any significant numbers. It is worth noting that the Red Squirrel nature reserve at Formby, close to the Sefton coast {Merseyside} are doing an admirable job of keeping a population stable within the confines of the reserve.

The red squirrel is today included on the Red List of conservation concern and so as attained the status of Priority Species and as such a Species Action Plan {S.A.P.} has been formulated and is now being implemented by various conservation bodies under the auspice of the U.K. Bio Diversity Action Plan {B.A.P.}.

So what are the reasons for the red squirrel plight? Whenever, conservation of the red squirrel is spoken, or written about, inevitably the grey squirrel will be mentioned in detail. In the U.K. the Grey squirrel an alien from America, appears every where the red used to flourish, thus they are generally blamed for the reds' demise. In this the case? The debate among naturalists is whether the larger, more adaptable grey has drove the red out or merely filled the gap vacated by the reds' misfortune.

As always other complex factors all contribute to an animals decline. For instance let us study the life style and habits of the native red squirrel . An important factor is their diet. red squirrels are seed eaters and they rely heavily on pine cones but they will also eat the seeds out of the cones of larch and spruce. other sources include fungi, berries and young shoots. In spring and summer they will also take birds eggs. The larger grey is far more adaptable being able to survive much easier in broad-leaved woodland where they can be seen regularly scurrying along branches in their quest for food. Grey squirrels will take beech nut, hazel nut, horse-chestnut fruit { conkers } and acorns. They are not afraid to find food at ground level, while the red is much more arboreal by nature.

Food does not only affect their day to day survival but has an important baring on their breeding success. If there is a dearth of food available during the autumn the following seasons breeding success will be poor. The heavier the female is before she becomes pregnant the larger the litter is, and the more likely the young are to survive.

It is a popular misconception that squirrels hibernate for they do not, thus ,they rely on hidden food stocks to see them through the coldest months. To this end studies have shown that the grey has a much better memory recall than the red, again another example of their superiority.

Another factor is predators, birds of prey and in particular the goshawk who is a skilled and deadly hunter in coniferous woodland, the reds' favoured habitat. Pine martens also take red squirrels especially the young and weak. Loss of habitat and degradation of habitat is another worrying trend as far as the red squirrel is concerned. But by far the most crucial factor is the squirrel pox virus.

A Much Loved Mammal " Squirrel Nutkins"

THE RED SQUIRREL SCIURUS VULGARIS. NOTE THE CHARACTERISTIC EAR TUFTS ABSENT IN THE LARGER GREY SQUIRREL. Photograph by Marek Rykiel
THE RED SQUIRREL SCIURUS VULGARIS. NOTE THE CHARACTERISTIC EAR TUFTS ABSENT IN THE LARGER GREY SQUIRREL. Photograph by Marek Rykiel

the Horrible Virus Affects the Red ----

The virus is a particularly nasty disease which kills red squirrels within a matter of weeks of contacting the disease.In red squirrels it causes skin ulcers and lesions, the lesions also discharge from around the eyes, mouth and feet. The hapless creature becomes increasingly lethargic as the disease gets established. These lesions tend to remain in a wet condition, thus , spreading the disease to other reds that come in to contact with a carrier.

Grey squirrels also carry the virus but they have evolved a greater immunity to it and it rarely proves fatal to them. Conversely red populations are effected greatly. Mortality rates of infected reds in the wild are 100%. The first case recorded in the UK. was confirmed in East Anglia in the 1980s, and was confirmed locally {Lancashire} in 1995/96.

The red squirrel can easily recognised by its russet red coat although colours cab be variable. They are small creatures 180-244mm long; adults weigh about 350g { greys weigh about 500-600gms }. The most recognizable feature is the ear tufts { absent in greys } that give our native species an attractive dainty appearance. The ear tufts are always prominent in winter. The grey species is a stockier more robust creature.

The Species Action Plan for the red squirrel takes all these problems into account. organisations involved in the Plan include Natural England { formerly English Nature } the Forestry Commission, Wildlife organisations and re squirrel conservation groups nationwide.

The red squirrel has legal protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 { as amended ]. They are a Schedule 5 species which means it is an offence to kill, injure, take, possess or sell any red squirrel or to destroy, damage or obstruct access to any place which they use for shelter, protection or breeding, or to destroy or disturb them while they are there.

Along with the Water vole the red squirrel is the U.K.s most threatened mammal species. I sincerely hope that the implementation of the ongoing action plans halt the decline. Should this eventually succeed we, as nature lovers, will owe a great debt of gratitude to the conservation organisations involved. It is hoped that the creature will continue to survive in the wild in order that our grandchildren and their children will have the opportunity to see them in their natural habitat rather than having to rely on books, as is the case for many children of today.

The dominent grey.

THE ROBUST GREY, SQUIRREL SCIURUS CAROLINENSIS, HAS A GREAT DEAL OF IMMUNITY TO THE VIRUS. Photograph by David Iliff.
THE ROBUST GREY, SQUIRREL SCIURUS CAROLINENSIS, HAS A GREAT DEAL OF IMMUNITY TO THE VIRUS. Photograph by David Iliff.

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Comments 13 comments

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Hi nikipa You are so lucky to have the red squirrels and especially visiting your balcony. They are very beautiful creatures . Thank you for your visit and for leaving your kind comments. Best wishes to you.


nikipa profile image

nikipa 5 years ago from Eastern Europe

Interesting and very informative hub! Thank you for sharing!

We have a lot of red squirrels near the park I live (in Moldova).

In the spring and autumn they even visit my balcony and play there :)

Love to hide and watch them... :)


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

HI pastella13,you are indeed fortunate to have the reds and no greys.It is nice to know they are thriving on your island. Thank you for conveying that to me. best wishes.


pastella13 6 years ago

Hi D.A.L.

What an informative hub about the red squirrel. We have them here on The Isle of Wight but we don't have the grey squirrel. It's possible to see them sometimes throughout the island and they look so tiny. We're so lucky.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Hi Property -Invest, nice to meet you. Thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment. It is nice to know that there are healthy populations thriving elsewhere.


Property-Invest profile image

Property-Invest 6 years ago from London

Thanks for your great hub about our British red squirrel! I love our squirrels. A word of encouragement; do you know that there are thriving populations of red squirrels all around the world; even in South Africa! Yes, thriving, healthy breeding populations, just in case something goes wrong in the UK. Great hub!


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Yard of nature, thank you for reading and for leaving your comment. Alas the reds are succumbing to the larger more aggressive greys all through our country. However, with the general public the greys are much liked. This is not the case with foresters and conservationists.


Yard of nature profile image

Yard of nature 6 years ago from Michigan

This afternoon I watched a daring red squirrel dash into the midst of a half-dozen gray squirrels, grab a morsel of food and dart off. The grays in our yard and neighboring easily outnumber the reds. While I enjoy the reds, they have a reputation in these parts of sneaking into homes and causing a lot of damage. So far, we co-exist peacefully with them. Thanks for the Hub.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Thanks Tatjana for stopping by. I am so glad you can still enjoy these wonderful creatures in your homeland.


Tatjana-Mihaela profile image

Tatjana-Mihaela 7 years ago from Zadar, CROATIA

I have heard the story about red and grey squirrels before. It seems that in this world, only stronger can survive. Of course I also like these beautiful (especially) red creatures who still live in croatian woods.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Thanks for your comments . Let's hope they can return to our countryside one day.


poetlorraine 7 years ago

ah lovely see lots of squirrels they are cute


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 7 years ago from England

Ah isn't he lovely. The red one I mean, I remember seeing them when I was small and I live in buckinghamshire. now I haven't seen them for years, it was nice to see such a lovely picture. and the hub was very informative. thanks Nell

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