Squirrel war means fight for survival

YOU’D hardly believe it but there is a war going on within the wider squirrel community.

YOU’D hardly believe it but there is a war going on within the wider squirrel community.

And this furry conflict between the grey squirrel and the red variety is descending into a fight for survival between the two species.

Now environmentalists are concerned that the pendulum has swung decidedly in favour of the grey.

The results from an all Ireland squirrel survey in 2007 showed a dramatic increase in the spread of the grey squirrel over the previous twenty years. The pest was present in 26 of the 32 counties, including Kildare, Wicklow, Laois, Kilkenny, Carlow, Wexford and Tipperary. Red squirrels were also present in each of these counties.

However, there were only 8 recordings of red squirrels compared to 30 for grey squirrels - mainly concentrated on the eastern side of the country.

The grey squirrel is a major threat to the survival of the native red squirrel and to the future of broadleaf trees.

Recently there have been reports of two cases of the pox virus in Co Wicklow and in Antrim. The disease is lethal to the native reds and carried by grey squirrels.

With the increased planting of broadleaf trees over the last two decades, woodland owners and the public need to be vigilant with regard to the threat posed by grey squirrels and on the extent to which they can destroy vigorous healthy trees through bark stripping and eliminate red squirrels. A new survey aims to pinpoint the most vulnerable areas in the country and ensure strategies are in place to minimise further tree damage and spread of the pest.

Members of the public are asked to record sightings of either species on a form on www.woodlandmammals.com. Hard copies of the form are also available from Ms Margaret Flaherty, Mammal Ecology Group, Martin Ryan Institute, NUI, Galway.