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The Exmoor Squirrel Project

If you see a squirrel on Exmoor, it will be a grey squirrel. There are currently no wild populations of red squirrels in the South West of mainland England. There is a habitat enclosure based in Devon Welcome to Wildwood Devon (wildwoodtrust.org) where you can see these marvellous mammals in their ¾ acre walk-through enclosure.

The red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is one of Britain’s most iconic and beloved mammals. Once the most common and only squirrel in the UK, they are now under threat, primarily due to the introduction of the non-native invasive grey squirrel from North America. The population in Great Britain is down to an estimated 120,000 for reds compared to an estimated 3,000,000 for greys. Reds now risk extinction. As a result of this, red squirrels are classed as a priority species in the UK and are protected under law. The Law – British Red Squirrelhttps://squirrelaccord.uk/

Grey squirrels may look cute; however, they pose a threat to our native red squirrels, our landscape and our birds. Grey squirrels will raid bird nests, taking eggs and nestlings, they are opportunist feeders.

Conservation – Red Squirrel South West

Woodland Damage

The grey squirrel is wreaking havoc in our woodlands resulting in an estimated £40 million per year being lost through tree damage.

Over the years we have seen this worsen for ourselves, broadleaf tree bark stripped so badly that entire plantations need to be clear felled before they have reached their intended purpose. The timber being no more than firewood, and not great firewood at that!

Our native tree species are being stripped bare. The trees will overcompensate, warp and fight to repair before eventually turning into standing deadwood. This is an awful waste and has a devastating impact on the future of our Exmoor landscape.

Damage to young plantations will seriously jeopardise efforts to establish new woodlands for nature recovery, natural flood management, carbon sequestration, and sustainable timber production.

Oak limb damage

Greys will target; Oak, Beech, Field Maple, Hornbeam, Silver Birch, Sweet Chestnut, Sycamore and Willow, amongst others!

Research shows we can scope out our woodlands to check for signs of damage, meaning we have the ability to predict and prevent this catastrophic behaviour.

The Grey squirrel is looking for the sweet sap in the phloem. The greys test the tree by initially stripping a thumbnail sized patch. Then again leaving a hand sized patch. By doing this over a period of time the greys are influencing the rate of sap produced thus forth, forcing trees into fight and repair mode. By having a knowledge and understanding of their behavioural patterns, how to identify tested areas and a true understanding of the woodland, we are able to pre-empt an explosive reaction of bark stripping and ensure effective management methods are put into place.

Three Atop Woodland Services (@threeatop) • Instagram photos and videos

Property damage

Grey squirrels can cause damage to your home if they get into your roof space. When inside they will make a drey (nest) using imported leaves, sticks, moss and the materials in your attic. This could include timber roofing and chewing through your wires causing a fire hazard.

Pipes can be chewed causing the risk of flooding and droppings in water tanks not to mention the loft noise.

Your house may not be insured for squirrel damage as grey squirrels are classed as vermin. If you think you may have a grey issue, please do check and contact your local pest control.

The Grey Squirrel is classed as a Non-Native Invasive Alien Species.

March 2019 update: Invasive non-native species and grey squirrels – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Why can’t the Grey and Red squirrel live together?

  • Size and competition
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The Grey squirrel is much larger than our native red, the grey will devour food sources quickly leaving the Red without. Greys are able to digest unripe food sources whereas, the red cannot. Without nourishment the Red squirrel is unable to thrive and therefore unable to breed. A Red squirrel will usually breed twice a year and raise around 2 kittens from each litter. The Grey squirrel can breed up to 4 times a year when mild and will raise around 4 kittens from each litter.

  • Squirrel Pox

Disease – British Red Squirrel

The most significant threat associated with grey squirrels is the spread and transmission of a disease called squirrelpox virus (SQPV). The grey squirrels carry the disease with no harmful effects to them. All it takes is one grey squirrel to introduce this virus to a local population of reds. The virus can quickly spread with devastating and fatal effects, wiping out entire colonies.

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Disease – British Red Squirrel

The Exmoor Squirrel Project sees collaboration with RSSW and ENPA to deliver this pivotal project along the north coast of Exmoor with one simple end goal, to save our native red squirrel.

We are a very long way from the end goal and it will take an entire community to achieve any form of reintroduction of reds to Exmoor however, it is possible.

With careful planning, coordination, education, effective grey management and a collaborative approach we can achieve.

Through monitoring populations and targeted control, we can help restore our biodiversity.

If you would like to get involved and see how you can help, please do get in touch, info@threeatop.co.uk

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