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North Merseyside Biodiversity Action Plan
Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris
1 Current status
Once ubiquitous in Britain, the Red Squirrel has undergone a drastic decline during the last 100 years. Following the introduction of North American Grey Squirrels in the nineteenth century, Red Squirrels have been lost from most of southern and central England. They are now essentially restricted to parts of Scotland and the north of England with small isolated populations elsewhere. There is no sign that their rate of decline is slowing.
Squirrel pox virus carried by Grey Squirrels is now proven to be the main threat to the Red Squirrel’s survival.
In North Merseyside the Red Squirrel remains relatively widespread. The key stronghold is in Sefton where the coastal woodlands support higher than average population levels. The population extends into the urban areas of Southport, Formby, Crosby and Blundellsands. Regular monitoring of the Sefton Coast Woodlands Red Squirrel population has shown a relatively stable population of around 800 – 1200 animals. Population estimates are worked out using ‘distance’ techniques and represent minimum numbers. Natural fluctuations occur in any small mammal population due to variations in over-wintering and breeding success.
This number is further boosted by an estimated population of around 600 animals in the urban areas and Buffer Zone Woodlands, Recent losses have occurred in both the Sefton Coast Woodlands and Buffer Zone due to squirrel pox.
There are small numbers in Knowsley and St. Helens. Surrounding populations in West Lancashire are under severe threat and some have become extinct.
When faced with competition from Grey Squirrels, Red Squirrels have been shown to compete for longer in conifer forests with a mix of tree species and a diverse age structure of trees to ensure continuity of food. The presence of large-seeded broadleaved trees (oak, chestnuts, beech and hazel) aids Grey Squirrel colonisation and threatens Reds.