A united front for the reds
GROWING up in Manchester, I remember our squirrels used to be red.
Darting red squirrels, bushy tails and bright eyes, quickly gathering nuts and then, just as quickly, dashing off to pop them in the ground for their over-winter larder.
Then they disappeared and there were bigger grey squirrels in their place, in Manchester and across most of our region.
But the red squirrel of my youth is clinging on in Formby, Southport, in Crosby in Merseyside and Halsall and Scarisbrick in Lancashire. There is even a site in Greater Manchester close to Wigan.
The introduced and invasive North American grey squirrel pushes out the red squirrel from our parks and woodlands.
Greys also bring with them a disease, squirrel pox, which has no ill effect on them but is deadly to reds.
Out-competed for food and under attack by the pox, red squirrel populations have tumbled and the areas they call home have shrunk dramatically.
Apart from their colour the obvious differences are that reds are smaller than greys, they have bushier tails and they have those lovely pointy ears.
The red squirrel is at risk of disappearing from the North West. But the Wildlife Trust and our colleagues in Red Squirrels United believe it doesn’t have to be that way. We have had a full-time conservation officer working since 2009, and recently, through Red Squirrels United, eight main partners are working nationally with more than 30 conservation groups, government bodies and universities to save our red squirrels.
The red squirrel refuge has been secured for now.
We have red squirrels from Crosby up to Southport and inland to our Mere Sands Wood reserve and that Wigan outpost. With the help of volunteers and communities, we are trapping grey squirrels that are surrounding our reds and improving habitats to encourage the red squirrel population to grow and recover its previous territories.
With continued work we aim to bring the red squirrel back to our woodlands, parks and gardens. I hope that when my newborn little boy is old enough, he’ll see red squirrels in Manchester when he’s collecting conkers.
But we can’t do this without your help. And that’s why, as we celebrate Red Squirrel Week – from September 24 to October 2 - we’re appealing for you to join us and help bring back our red squirrels.
Find out more at www. lancswt.org.uk/ redsquirrels and lend your support to the red squirrel.
To become a member of the Trust go to the website at www. lancswt.org.uk or call 01772 324129. For more information about Cheshire Wildlife Trust call 01948 820728 or go to cheshirewildlifetrust. org.uk.
●● Portrait image of red squirrel by Darin Smith