Whenever anyone poses this question, whether the red squirrel population in the mid Wales Focal Site is increasing, it is really hard to give a definitive answer. This is down to several factors, not least being, we do not have a good baseline figure for the size of the red squirrel population in mid Wales. It is very difficult to survey for red squirrels, especially in thick conifer forests; as they can spend 80% of their time in the canopy, they can be really difficult to spot. In 2015 The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales' Red Squirrel Officer, Becky Hulme took part in a Vincent Wildlife Trust survey for red squirrels in woodland near Tregaron. A red had been radio-collared and Becky stood under one of 2 trees where the radio signals told us that this red was located.
Becky said: "I looked up until I became dizzy; no sign of the squirrel. Red squirrel dreys cannot easily be distinguished from grey squirrel dreys."
It is said that dreys built by red squirrels tend to be ‘neater‘; not easy though to distinguish the work of a sloppy red from that of a house-proud grey! However there are some tantalising signs that our red squirrel population in mid Wales may be increasing, and, as a consequence, dispersing past the confines of the Focal Site. There have been a series of sightings reported to the Project recently that might be an indication that our red population is growing and expanding. Recent reports place red squirrels to the south west of the Focal Site, towards Llandeilo. One sighting came from Manordeilo in August 2015, and another from near Llangadog in May of this year might be a sign that reds are using the A40 as a corridor (or the wooded strips and hedgerows next to this main road) as a conduit for dispersal.
A confirmed sighting as far afield as Cnwch Coch, near Aberystwyth, caused great excitement in August. This sighting was backed up by a shaky, but convincing video recorded on a mobile phone. The footage shows the red squirrel moving through an ash tree in a village garden, before scaling across a phone wire. Also, way north of the Focal Site, sightings of red squirrels have been reported from a driver using the A44 in Goginan back in August of last year, as well as a report from Pant Y Dwr, north of Rhayader, of another sighting in October 2015.
As well as sightings from outside of the Focal Site, there have also been several recent reports of red squirrel sightings from within the Focal Site, but in areas where reds have not been seen for some time. 2 reds were spotted in Nant Y Bai woods, just above the village of Rhandirmwyn on the morning of the village show on the August bank holiday weekend. This is the first sighting from that woodland since 2013. In July of last year, on roadside near to Cilycwm, a local farmer spotted a red squirrel; the first report of a red near the village for over 14 years.
This July in Pantyfedwen Woods, near to Pontrhydfendigaid, a red squirrel appeared on a Vincent Wildlife Trust trail camera, the first sighting of a red to have been reported so far to the north of the Tywi Forest for several years.
Although some of these reports can’t be 100% confirmed, the observers are always asked if they have seen red squirrels previously, as once someone has seen a red, they are much more likely to be able to identify the species correctly.
Forester and Squirrel Ecologist, Huw Denman commented: “this is really exciting news, there is no way that we can say yet for definite, but this could be an indication that the hard work of our volunteers in controlling the grey population in the Focal Site is paying off. The sightings outside the Focal Site may be a sign that the reds, freed up from pressure from grey squirrels, are breeding successfully, and that young red squirrels, finding that territories within the Focal Site are already taken, need to move further afield to find new territories.”
All of the sightings referred to above can be viewed on a map of the area on the Project’s website. Please do remember to report any sightings to us, as this helps build a picture of the current state of the population, as well as giving an indication of how well our conservation efforts are working.
Becky Hulme – Red Squirrel Officer