Increased red squirrel sightings in Northumberland are a positive sign for the Northern Pennines
A recent study of red squirrel numbers in Northumberland suggests red squirrel numbers in the area are actually increasing, despite the threat from greys. Volunteers from Red Squirrels Northern England and Northumberland Wildlife Trust, spent three months inspecting Northumberland's woodlands for signs of both red and grey squirrels. They found that the geographical range of red squirrels had increased, with an increase of almost 20% in the number of sites they were spotted.
This is fantastic news, as the Northern Pennines is one of very few areas left in England where there is a population of native Red Squirrel holding on. It is a constant battle to keep the greys at bay, the keepers and estate workers in the Northern Pennines do all that they can – alongside the squirrel rangers –– to keep the reds safe.
Although both red and grey squirrels are arboreal mammals, squirrels can live in all types of woodland. In more fragmented landscapes such as agricultural and sub-urban areas, they exploit pockets of trees and woodlands connected by hedgerows and other wildlife corridors. They are commonly spotted on the moorland fringes and edges in the Northern Pennines, so the news that their range is increasingly is very welcome.
The Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is the only species of squirrel native to England. As a native species, the red squirrel is an integral part of our countryside and our natural heritage; however the native red squirrel population has long been under threat from the non-native greys, which carry a virus that is merely harmful to themselves, but fatal to reds.
From a high of 3.5m, there are now just 140,000 red squirrels left in the UK. 15,000 of them are in England, where they are confined to pockets in Merseyside, Cumbria, Yorkshire and Northumbria and the Isle of Wight.
However, as well as being spotted in the Northern Pennines, gamekeepers across Nidderdale have also been reporting increased sightings of native Red Squirrel activity, which reinforces what has been seen in Northumberland – that they are slowly recolonising suitable areas.
Conifers offer red squirrels a natural defence against greys, so improved woodland habitat arising across the lower parts of the moors, combined with the appropriate management of predators, provides an ideal habitat for these cheeky creatures.