The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (WTSWW) has employed a new officer to help protect red squirrels in mid Wales thanks to funding from Environment Wales, The Co-operative’s carrier bag levy and a number of private donations and other grant funds.
The new Mid Wales Red Squirrel Officer, Becky Hulme, will work to co-ordinate and expand volunteer efforts and community engagement in the Red Squirrel Conservation Zone.
“The red squirrel is an iconic native species which attracts a great deal of attention; we are working to help red squirrels survive in mid Wales and to be part of our future. If this plan is going to work we’ll need the support and active involvement of local residents and landowners.”
It’s not a widely-known fact, but one of Wales’ only remaining populations of red squirrels is situated in mid-Wales, within and around the Tywi Forest area, straddling Brecknock, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion. However, this remnant population of red squirrels, a once common and widespread native UK species, is under threat. Loss of suitable habitat is one of the problems that red squirrels have to deal with, but their greatest threat comes from the much larger grey squirrel.
The grey squirrel was introduced to the UK in the 1870s from the USA. Since the introduction of a handful of animals, grey squirrel numbers have climbed to more than 2.5 million and they now outnumber reds by 66-1. Greys carry the squirrel poxvirus which is harmless to greys but is usually fatal to reds. In broadleaved woodland in particular, grey squirrels out-compete reds for resources, leaving red squirrels without enough to eat.
In the heart of the Tywi Forest Red Squirrel Conservation Zone, large areas of coniferous woodland give reds a slight competitive advantage over their larger cousins, and this has allowed red squirrels to cling on in mid Wales. Reds can eat the small seeds of coniferous trees; small seeded conifers are less favoured by grey squirrels as they do not provide them with enough nutrition. Despite the advance of the grey squirrel, the reds have hung on in the Twyi Forest area – and if they are going to survive into the future, they need your support!
“Ten years of research by the Mid Wales Red Squirrel Partnership have shown focused grey squirrel control to be key to conserving our red squirrels; we hope to deliver it through a sustainable model of local volunteer involvement. My main focus will be on involving landowners in red squirrel conservation through the control of grey squirrels in key buffer areas such as Llanwrtyd Wells, Llandovery, Pumsaint, Lampeter, Llanfair Clydogau, Tregaron and Pontrhydfendigaid.”
Environment Wales, a partnership in the voluntary sector and funded by the Welsh Government, aims to support voluntary action to protect and improve the environment. The funding will give support for five years to enable Becky to set in place a sustainable, volunteer-focussed red squirrel conservation programme.
Environment Wales Development Officer, Alison Colebrook, highlighted the long-term support that Environment Wales is giving to this project:
“In recent years, Environment Wales funding has enabled the Mid Wales Red Squirrel Project to develop the principles of landscape-scale grey squirrel control in the project area. It is great that further Environment Wales support is enabling the project to take the next, important steps to secure the future of red squirrels in mid Wales”.
The project is part of the Welsh Wildlife Heroes campaign which is run by Wildlife Trusts Wales and funded entirely by the money collected from the single-use carrier bag charge in The Co-operative food stores and pharmacies in Wales.
The Co-operative Membership Manager for Wales, Ashley Drake, commented:
“Working with Wildlife Trusts Wales is a fantastic opportunity to engage our members and customers with the wonderful wildlife that exists across Wales, especially the rare and beautiful red squirrel. We are delighted that nature will benefit from the carrier bag charge from our Welsh stores.”
Anyone interested in getting involved and helping Becky with surveys, promotion or in gaining training and support in grey squirrel control can contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07972 201202.