AS 2013 emerges from the slumber of the festive wind-down, the future is looking rosy for the red squirrels in our region.
Since receiving funding at the start of last year from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Biffa Award, Sita Trust and others last year, Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE) has gone from strength to strength.
In the first year of the project, nine rangers and contractors have been in Northumberland carrying out grey control around designated red squirrel reserves. A further six members of staff have been working in Cumbria. All of the team work closely with local volunteer groups and landowners to ensure a landscape approach to red squirrel conservation.
At an even more local level, Red Squirrel Watch have reported real progress in saving the red squirrel.
Elizabeth Bamford of Red Squirrel Watch said: “We have seen greater awareness amongst landowners and foresters about the red-grey problem with more control taking place in north Northumberland and the Borders than previously. It’s all excellent for the improved habitat of our own red squirrel.”
RSNE have also undertaken the largest ever survey of squirrel distribution. The first round took place in the spring and involved volunteers and staff monitoring 300 sites to find out where red and grey squirrels are living across Northumberland, Cumbria, County Durham, North Yorkshire and Merseyside. This survey was repeated in the autumn and will continue twice yearly for the life of the project.
The HLF funding has allowed RSNE to build community capacity in Northumberland, with new local volunteer groups set up to take ownership of their red squirrels and ensure that they can be seen by future generations.
Visits to schools and community talks have helped to raise awareness of the plight of the red squirrel in Northumberland. This year will see community engagement work focused on Otterburn, Swarland, Cambo, Gosforth and Alnwick,
The next three years will see a continuation of the work carried out in 2012, with more funds being raised to increase conservation work in both southeast Northumberland and Slaley forest, south of Hexham.
Northumberland Wildlife Trust is working closely with the project partners Natural England, the Red Squirrel Survival Trust and Forestry Commission to deliver the programme.
Katy Cook, RSNE engaging communities officer said: “The future certainly looks rosy for these delightful, iconic animals and we cannot wait to get started on more work after our well-deserved Christmas break.”