Communities Act to Save the Red Squirrel in Mid Wales

Over 50 people congregated in community centres across mid Wales last week to find out about how local people can act to save the red squirrel in mid Wales.  The 3 events, held in Tregaron, Rhandirmwyn and Llanwrtyd Wells were hosted by the Mid Wales Red Squirrel Partnership and featured guest speaker, Jackie Foott from Cumbria who helps to co-ordinate the English community action networking organisation, Northern Red Squirrels.  Jackie spoke of how action on-the-ground to control the numbers of invasive grey squirrels has worked to bring back the red squirrel from the verge of extinction in south Cumbria, where the ‘experts’ had written off this native mammal as unviable, faced with competition for resources and disease from the vast numbers of grey squirrels.

Red Squirrel by Jon Hawkins

Red Squirrel by Jon Hawkins

Red Squirrel Officer, Becky Hulme from the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales was delighted with the response from local people:

“I was really pleased with the degree of concern for the red squirrel that came across at the events.  Local people really do have a love for the red squirrel, the older generation have fond memories of red squirrels from when they were children, before the grey squirrel colonised mid Wales; there’s a lot of enthusiasm from the whole community to bring the red squirrel back from the brink.  Jackie helped us understand that this is one conservation issue that local people can actually have a positive effect on.  

Reds are now a common sight in gardens and in woodland in south Cumbria, and it is this dynamic that we want to replicate here in mid Wales.  It’s only with concerted community action to reduce the numbers of grey squirrels in the area that we have a hope of saving the red squirrel in mid Wales.  From the reception that we have had at the events over the weekend, I really do think that red squirrel conservation is achievable in mid Wales; already we have people in the Tywi Valley manning stands at their local shows to publicise the project and to try to get more people working to save the red squirrel”

Unfortunately, red and grey squirrels cannot live side by side; when grey squirrels enter a red squirrel area, the red squirrels will die out if there is no intervention. A native of North America, the grey squirrel first arrived in Wales in the 1950s, and has spread at an alarming rate, colonising the country so effectively, that they now are the dominant squirrel species.  As well as competing for food and habitat, the grey squirrel carries the Squirrel Pox virus, which has little effect on the grey but is usually fatal when passed to the red.

Red squirrel populations in Wales

Red squirrel populations in Wales

In an exciting new development for the Mid Wales Red Squirrel Project it has been announced that Welsh Government funding has been awarded to help support community action for red squirrel conservation. The funding from Environment Wales, a partnership in the voluntary sector that aims to support voluntary action to protect and improve the environment, will enable the Mid Wales Red Squirrel Partnership to roll out a Trap Loan Scheme.  The Trap Loan Scheme will offer free loan of trapping equipment for grey squirrel control to residents and landowners within the Mid Wales Red Squirrel Conservation Area, which lies between Pontrhydfendigaid, Tregaron, Lampeter, Pumsaint, Llandovery and Llanwrtyd Wells.  The scheme will also provide training in trapping technique and a new website facility which will enable people to report sighting of red squirrels.  Becky commented: “We are delighted to receive project funding from Environment Wales.  This represents a significant step forward for red squirrel conservation in mid Wales and hopefully the start of a brighter future for red squirrels in mid Wales.”

For more on how to help the movement to save red squirrels in mid Wales, visit the information stands at the Rhandirmwyn and Cilycwm shows over the August bank holiday weekend.  Anyone interested in getting involved in grey squirrel control please contact Becky on b.hulme@welshwildlife.org or 07972 201202.