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Chilli-head

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Red Squirrels

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default Red Squirrels

Post by Ploshkin on 26th September 2013, 9:50 am

Mike
In the UK, native red squirrels are an endangered species having been out competed by the introduced American grey squirrel (now they are regarded as bushy tailed vermin - in this household anyway).  The reds have also succumbed to diseases  that arrived with the greys.

Red squirrels only now exist in small pockets in the UK, in remote areas & on islands, where the populations are managed & the greys actively eliminated.  European strains have been brought in to boost the gene pool in some areas as well.  The mid Wales population is a unique native genotype that has been able to survive, unmanaged, & seems to have some resistance to diseases that have wiped out others & they have been living in areas where greys are also prevalent.  I know that they are in 2 areas near us, one a mile away & one 4 miles away as they are monitored by a local wildlife group.  We only planted our wood 4 years ago so the trees are not yet mature enough to provide a habitat.

I know it probably seems strange to you when red squirrels are ten a penny, but for us they are an iconic species that I have only seen 3 times in my life.  We really hope to see some in our wood one day, when the trees have grown, but even if we don't I hope that what we have done will help them to survive here and enable future generations to see them.
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Post by Mike on 27th September 2013, 1:41 pm

The introduced diseases are probably the main problem. That sort of thing always causes a crash in the native population. But as long as some percentage of the natives are resistant recovery will happen all by itself. This sort of thing (introduced diseases) can be much worse than your red squirrel problem. I am actively involved with the project to breed American chestnut trees resistant to the chestnut blight; possibly to phytopthera also but that resistance some American trees had pre blight.

But a secondary problem which may prevent red squirrel recovery is that you are so built up. Over here both greys and reds are native but growing up in the suburbs I never saw a red squirrel. The reds cannot compete with the greys in urban areas or suburban areas. They can successfully compete in the forests as they have different "strategies" storing food for the winter. The greys use "burying buts singly" and that only works with the large nuts. The reds are "hoard storer's" and can store even the small seeds/nuts that way.

Easy to make your land attractive to squirrels fairly quickly. They don't mind eating hazelnuts and it wouldn't take you long to establish a source of a lot of those. You want reds, so instead of oaks and chestnuts (good burying nuts for greys) try beech and smaller seed trees (good for hoarding).

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Post by Ploshkin on 29th September 2013, 5:29 pm

I didn't know about the big nuts / small seeds - that's interesting.  We already have loads of hazel, probably the most common tree around here but as I understand it, the grey squirrels are able to tolerate higher tannin levels & therefore strip the trees of nuts before they are sufficiently ripe for the red squirrels (& humans too - I've never managed to get any hazelnuts despite there being loads of green ones earlier in the season).  We're not built up here at all, very rural.  Farming is all sheep & cattle & there are good deciduous wood corridors & managed forestry plantations on the highest areas.
I hadn't heard of chestnut blight, I think the chestnut is one of few trees in the UK that aren't currently under threat.  We've got sudden oak death, ash dieback, dutch elm disease, phythoptera in various species to name just a few & I noticed a lot of holly dying this year too.
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Post by Mike on 30th September 2013, 1:38 am

In preparing for the winter, the grey squirrel buries nuts singly. That calls for relatively large nuts like acorns, chestnut, etc. The red squirrel builds a hoard of food for winter in some hopefully safe location where it plans to live, hollow tree, among the rocks, (in your house attic). Seed size isn't important for seeds stored in a dry heap.

That's why I suggested a feeder (technically a bird feeder) filled with sunflower seeds (black oil seed higher food value than the striped ones we can eat too). While grey squirrels will come to eat these too they cannot store them (but the reds can).

Please bear in mind what I said about not seeing any red squirrels while growing up in the suburbs (what we call suburbs). I would not expect to see red squirrels on land here that was as built up as 90% of Britain is.

Chestnut blight -- the fungus C. parasitica was introduced from Asia possibly on Asiatic chestnut specimens brought to the Bronx Botanical Garden. At least that was the apparent epicenter when discovered in 1904 (some scientists believe it had gotten over sooner than that). At the time perhaps 1 out of four trees on the east coast was a chestnut! They possibly produced more food for the animals than all the rest combined. While this disease doesn't actually kill the tree (cannot go below ground level so the chestnut will resprout) it effectively makes the species extinct as chestnuts will not flower unless in full sun at the top of the canopy, so the persistence of individuals in the substory means nothing.

BTW -- the European species is not very resistant to the blight fungus.

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