Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Autumn 2017

 Autumn Blog 2017 

Frustrated by lack of funds, which has been shackling a bag full of volunteer enthusiasm, Red Squirrel South West organised a fund-raising dinner in July for over 100 guests, harnessing the skills of chef Tim Maddems. Tim is a private chef, writer, cookery teacher and presenter living in Devon. He previously led the team at River Cottage, Axminster, where he regularly appeared alongside Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall on both the River Cottage series on Channel 4 and the Fish Fight campaign. 

He designed a unique menu for the evening, which included ‘Escot grey flightless partridge’, tomatoes, herbs, pasta, & old Winchester cheese – grey squirrel, of course! 

Work can now begin to start connecting Devon, building a picture of grey culling, grey hotspots, corridors and voids - at the same time building an ever-growing database of support. With funds raised we are now able to recruit someone on a part time basis with report and press writing, researching, habitat and species mapping, data collection and sampling, data entry and analysis skills, and use of statistical software. If you know anyone who might be suitable please ask them to get in touch. 

The aim of all this? To see red squirrels back on the South West peninsular as a sustainable reintroduction.   
Pie in the sky? Well not necessarily.  The Cornish group have been working hard to prepare the way for a release near Land’s End and it looks as though this could be as soon as next year, 2018. To succeed there has to be coordinated effort across the region to prevent the fatal squirrel pox from killing them off before they establish.  Grey squirrels carry, but are immune to, the virus.  In the 21st century the approach must be scientific, technological and sensitive.  Ultimately native biodiversity must be the winner.  

How can you care if you don’t know?  Olivia Kennaway has spent the last two years working on a recently launched education pack. Curriculum based aimed at key stage 2 primary school children, titled ‘The Red Squirrel Education Pack’, challenging the children to answer the question; “Do red squirrels need our help?” www.redsquirreleducation.com  Encouragingly even HRH Prince Charles has responded positively to letters sent to him by pupils from a school in East Devon after an inspiring visit to the walk-through enclosure at nearby Escot Park. 

If you think RSSW is too small a charity to be effective, you have never been to bed with a mosquito! 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Spring 2017

Spring Blog 2017

Figure 1 Seasonal Red Squirrel © Olivia Kennaway

At this time of year our native wildlife has one thing on its mind – reproduction! We humans have tampered with our environment so much that some species are really struggling.  At a local level we continue to destroy habitats. A few predator species like the magpie can take advantage of this, with less suitable nesting sites for small birds, harvest mice and dormice. At least magpies are a native species.

Figure 2 Grey Squirrel eating bird

The American grey squirrel is not.  Through no fault of its own it was introduced to the UK in 1878 as a novelty. There are now estimated to be over 3 million.  The problem is they are hugely destructive to our trees, shrubs and bulbs, as well as predating on our birds, bats and dormice.

Figure 3 Grey Squirrel with egg from nest

Our native red squirrel has lived in harmony with our flora and fauna since the last ice age – of course they also eat many of the same things – but they are on average less than half the weight of a grey, eat much less and are generally much less destructive.  Reds were being driven to extinction, that is until passionate volunteers in the north of England showed ,over the last 20 years, that if they carried out grey control, the reds could survive and indeed thrive.  This work has now been extended to other areas of the UK.  Reds have been in steep decline predominately due to the greys which are territoriality aggressive and out compete them for food – plus greys carry, but yet are immune to the squirrel pox virus, which the reds are highly susceptible to.  It is estimated that there are less than 140,000 reds left in the UK.  There are none left in the wild in the South West, but in East Devon Escot Park has built a walk through ¾ acre safe haven for reds, protected by a sheet metal circumference, which squirrels cant climb.  This was completed in 2010 and is completely free for visitors to visit. (there are other native species to visit, and gardens, for which there is a charge - www.wildwoodescot.org)

Figure 4 Red Squirrel on tree

Red Squirrel South West was formed as a charity ultimately to return red squirrels to the peninsular but also to provide a national, and international non-political forum for reds – www.britishredsquirrel.org  We need to build connectivity in the South West – a tide of contacts and volunteers to achieve a suitable environment for the return of our reds.  It is working in the Borders where more and more people are realising that they really can help to save this iconic native mammal – and they have a straight line to defend across Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Northumberland.  We have a peninsular with sea on two sides – let’s do it!

Figure 5 Red Squirrel talk

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RSSW sponsored by Savills