Population of Red Squirrel in the UK is estimated at around 140,000. A tiny population compared to Grey Squirrel which numbers around 2.5 million.
Grey Squirrels are not native to the UK. They were introduced to the UK in the 1870s as fashionable additions to Victorian estates. As with any non indigenous species, they had a dramatic effect on our native species.
Grey Squirrels carry squirrel pox, harmless to the grey species but lethal to the Red Squirrel.
Due to the increase in distribution of the introduced grey squirrel, the native red squirrels range has been seriously reduced. It is now isolated to the highlands of Scotland, Northumberland the Lake District and Ireland.
It can also be found in smaller pockets throughout England and Wales including the Isle of Wight which escaped introduction of Grey Squirrels. Habitats include coniferous and deciduous woodlands especially in upland and remote areas. Control of grey squirrels is very important where reds are resident as the non-native grey squirrel can out compete and also spreads disease to the less resilient red squirrel.
The red is smaller than grey with a length of 20cm to the base of the tail and an 18cm bushy tail. It has a reddish/brown coat and also has distinguishable ear tufts on the top of the ears which the grey squirrel lacks. The only species that could be confused with the Red Squirrel is the non-native Grey Squirrel.
The Red Squirrel is a priority species on the UK Biodiversity Plan and is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The Red Squirrel cannot therefore be harmed in anyway. Under the same act, it is illegal to release grey squirrels or allow them to escape into the wild.
What is Squirrel Pox Virus?
Grey Squirrels have developed an immunity to the disease but mortality rate of Red Squirrels who catch the virus and not treated, is 100%. The virus causes skin ulcers, lesions, and scabs. It can also cause swelling and discharge (from the lesions/scabs) near the eyes, mouth, feet, and genitalia.
Infected animals are said to resemble rabbits with myxomatosis, in that they are sometimes found shivering and lethargic, often become increasingly lethargic as it progresses
It is thought the disease is transferred between the species by using contaminated feeders and mosquitoes/midges transferring infection between species.
You can find out more about saving our Red Squirrel population on the following websites :