The return of the reds
Red squirrels are bouncing back from a disease that almost wiped them out in the North West.
The Formby population is increasing and there is more good news as sightings of red squirrels are stretching into Lancashire and Greater Manchester.
A whole team of experts are working to save the reds which were devastated by a pox. Lancashire Wildlife Trust Red Squirrel Project Officer Rachel Miller said: “In 2008, salve the outlook was very bleak. The squirrel pox virus wiped out approximately 80 per cent of red squirrels in the North Merseyside and West Lancashire Stronghold.
“This virus is carried by grey squirrels which are immune to it, here but it is fatal to red squirrels. Thanks to the perseverance and dedication of our volunteers and project officers, medical the population recovered quickly and has now increased to just over 80 per cent of the pre-pox numbers.
“Red squirrels are able to live in any type of woodland but in the UK they are now mostly confined to conifer forests where they have a competitive advantage over the larger greys. This project, with the help of volunteers and vigilant members of the public, could mean reds extending their territory throughout the North West.”
Rachel and Trust officers have been working with a large number of partners – Red Squirrels Northern England; Red Squirrel Survival Trust; National Trust; Natural England; Sefton Council; Sefton Coast Partnership; Forestry Commission and the University of Liverpool.
Much of the monitoring, control and habitat improvement work has been carried out by volunteers.
Rachel said: “Protecting the red squirrel population requires constant effort. Through grey squirrel control we aim to prevent the incursion of grey squirrels into the red squirrel reserve areas of Formby and Ainsdale, as well as create suitable ‘grey free’ habitat for red squirrels to re-colonise.
“Recently we have had sightings recorded in Knowsley, Rainford, Bickerstaffe, Skelmersdale and at our nature reserve at Mere Sands Wood near Rufford.”
Reds have been sighted in the west of Wigan borough and around Preston over the past year.