Informative Red Squirrel Survey Conducted by The Queen’s University & University of St Andrew’s Gets Published
The natural balance of the planet relies on the biodiversity of organisms. Across the globe, human scientists and activists are working towards the conservation of biology to surpass the threat caused due to human actions. Due to unfavorable actions towards animals, the population of red squirrels is continuously getting down the slope and has reached 120,000 from 3.5 million. The reason behind the disappearance of red squirrels is the loss of their woodland habitat & the appearance of American grey squirrels.
The American grey squirrel came to the UK in the Victorian area from North America by animal lovers, wealthy landowners, and collectors as curiosities. Although the greys are not as good invaders as they are assumed, they outcompete native reds for resources. The grey squirrel eats the primary food of the reds, the green acorns, before they ripen. In addition, Para poxvirus bought by grey squirrels is dangerous for red squirrels. The Para poxvirus causes skin disease in red squirrels, which wiped out their population in parts of Southern Britain and Wales earlier this century.
The loss of woodland over some time, excessive road traffic, and predators are also additional factors that lead to the absence of the red squirrels. Recent studies have shown that humans are responsible for spreading the grey population across the UK, ultimately leading to the loss of red squirrels.
One of the potent wrongdoers of the red squirrels was Herbrand Russell, the 11th Duke of Bedford. His intentions were pure, but due to insufficient knowledge of invasive species, his actions have harmed the red squirrel population more than the betterment. Russell is well known for his involvement in saving endangered animal species projects. Many grey squirrels were gifted to the UK from his home at Woburn Park. Over time as conservation biologists realized the severity of the invasive species, various conservation strategies to restore the red squirrel population included eradication and control programs.
One of the conservation strategies adopted for restoring the red population was the plantation of non-native conifers. Conifer plantation afforestation strategies are also used in Ireland and the UK to combat climate change and biodiversity loss to save the red squirrels population. However, the research conducted by Queen’s University and the University of St Andrews has proved that this strategy is not an effective way of reviving the red squirrel population.
The research has taken into account data collected over five years from cameras surveying more than 700 sites across Northern Ireland. The red and grey squirrels were carefully observed with pine martens in their natural habitats. The results showed that the plantation of non-native confer is having detrimental effects on the species survival. In their new environment, the red squirrels cannot survive due to a lack of hiding place from predators.
Therefore, it’s very important to change the conservation strategy. It has been proposed that the co-plantation of the native tree population and plants tend to have more beneficial results than the current conservation strategy. The pine martens are natural predators of both the red and grey squirrels. They are often found in the Scottish Highlands. With the co-plantation of the native trees, the red squirrel will have access to its natural hiding space. Pine martens are the predators that control the invasive population of the grey squirrels.
The study for determining the effectiveness of the adopted conservation strategy was funded by the British Ecological Society and was led by Dr Joshua P. Twining from Queen’s University Belfast. Dr Joshua P. Twining stated that “Restoration and Conservation of Native Predators” is an important preservation method to combat the ongoing biodiversity crisis. Still, it must be done in conjunction with preserving and protecting natural, complex habitats.
He also stated that the ongoing recovery of predators in some locations, such as Mainland Europe, has global implications. This eventually indicated that the current red squirrel conservation strategies favoring non-native conifer plants are likely to have an opposite effect to what was intended earlier. While Timber plantations may be promoted as good for red squirrel conservation, results indicate that they will likely harm the future.
He said, “This work shows us that we must develop an alternative national strategy for red squirrel conservation, focusing on the planting of native woodlands and continued pine marten recovery.” Dr Chris Sutherland, University of St Andrews, added, “This research shows the immense value of large-scale information collected through public participation.” The findings of this collaborative study have brought key insights for designing conservation strategies and understanding the importance of native flora and fauna in conservation.