The future of red squirrels in the UK is in danger and conservationists are calling for your help. The endangered mammal needs protection from the invasive grey squirrels introduced in 1876 from North America. A total of 5,000 volunteers are required in "red squirrels strongholds" across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Volunteers will work with partner organisations to monitor the red squirrels, set up camera trips to film their behaviour, educate the public about the species and "speedy report" the larger, common grey squirrels when they move into strongholds for red squirrels. And volunteers can also do some training to learn how to trap and kill grey squirrels -- by putting them in a bag and knocking them over the head.
The early bird gets the worm, and the early squirrel gets the... home? It's not as quippy, but researchers at the University of Guelph found that squirrels born earlier in the year have better survival rates--probably because they have their pick of new real estate while their tardy competitors are still babes in the nest. "[I]f you are born before your neighbors, you can leave your nest first and find a vacant spot to store your food for the winter," David Fisher, a postdoc and lead author on on the paper, said in a statement. Fisher and his colleagues studied more than 2,600 red squirrels in Yukon, Canada. Between 1989 and 2015, they tagged the ears of newborn pups to track their survival, and measured their growth rates in the first month or so.
The red squirrel's range spans northern Europe to Asia, but it is considered endangered in the United Kingdom. The main problem is that the Eastern gray squirrel, introduced from North America, has spread across most of the United Kingdom. Gray squirrels normally outcompete the reds, and they carry a deadly virus called squirrelpox, which quickly kills red squirrels. Yet the tide may be turning. The Isle of Anglesey is now free of grays, thanks to an eradication project that took 18 years.
A group of conservation charities is launching its biggest ever recruitment drive for volunteers to help protect the native red squirrel. A total of 5,000 squirrel-watchers are required across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Volunteers will help protect resident squirrel populations. Researchers say the species remains under threat because of disease and competition for food from larger grey squirrels, from north America. This army of volunteers led by the Wildlife Trusts will focus on nine "red squirrel strongholds".