Red squirrel: Sciurus vulgaris

This native mammal has suffered catastrophic decline since the arrival of the (North American) grey squirrel in Britain. Red squirrels are highly arboreal (tree dwelling), smaller than the grey squirrel and less able to digest large seeds with a high tannin content such as oak and beech. They are also highly susceptible to a deadly parapox virus which is commonly carried by grey squirrels. Their habitat requirement is therefore woodland - free of grey squirrel. They appear to have some relative competitive advantage over grey squirrels in conifer forest, but this is likely to be temporary prior to the onset of parapox. It is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). A major programme of grey squirrel control on Anglesey has been carried out since 1997 in an attempt to remove the threat to the remnant red squirrel population. However, the last (few) grey squirrels are proving elusive!

A red squirrel introduction experiment, using captive breeding pens and subsequent release of young, has been underway at Newborough Forest since late 2003 with initial successful breeding and release of 23 young animals in 2004. However, during 2005 most of the breeding stock died of infection and the fate of the wild population is unclear. Further detail of the current situation is available here The red squirrel has been suggested as a justification for the retention (or even extension) of the entire conifer forest at Newborough, in preference to other acknowledged conservation priorities.

Summary guidance on management of woodlands which are to be retained on sand dune systems;

  1. Size: woods should consist of at least 200ha of connected woodland and ideally should be much larger than this.
  2. Buffer Zone: between 1km and 3km of unsuitable squirrel habitat should be left between red squirrel woodland and grey squirrel habitat.
  3. Tree species diversity: should be encouraged, although this should not be at the expense of significant reductions in the area covered by particularly beneficial species such as Scots, Corsican, or lodgepole pine. On suitable soils the inclusion of small areas of large seeing broadleaves such as beech and oak would be particularly beneficial, if there is no risk of grey squirrel encroachment.
  4. Scrub: small pockets of sea buckthorn or hawthorn dominated scrub should be retained.
  5. Corridors: the simultaneous clearfelling of large areas of woodland should be avoided where possible. Overmature stands should be removed gradually and corridors left to connect woodland patches.
  6. Thinning regimes: should seek to retain corridors to facilitate movement between seed-producing areas within blocks. The tinning of maturing stands should be at intervals sufficient to produce a full and continuous canopy.
  7. Woodland structure: the management of coniferous plantations should aim to develop a forest structure within which 50 – 60% of trees are old enough to produce seed. A mosaic of stands of different area is preferable to large continuous blocks of coeval woodland. In commercial woodlands a suggested age-class structure is 30% young trees (i.e. pre-cone production, 0-15 years in Scots pine or 0 – 30 years in Corsican pine 30% middle age trees (16 – 30 years in Scots pine, 30-60 years in Ainsdale) and 40% older trees.

    Shuttleworth C M., & J Gurnell, 2001