Red squirrels in the UK are being put at risk by non-native conifer trees that have been planted with the aim of protecting the threatened species. This is the warning of a team of Queen's University Belfast-led researchers, who studied squirrel populations at 700 different sites across Northern Ireland. In the UK, red squirrel populations are often confined to coniferous woodlands -- as their invasive rival, the grey squirrel, struggles to gain a foothold in such habitats. This is because the greys prefer trees like oaks that provide larger, more calorific seeds to eat, whereas red squirrels are fine feeding on the smaller seeds of conifers. The problem with providing red squirrels more coniferous habitats to call home, the team found, is that such fails to take into account the resurgence of the pine marten.
Invasive grey squirrels carry a parasite that makes their native red cousins sluggish and threatens to further reduce their numbers, a study has found. Scientists say that the parasite -- carried only by the greys -- causes red squirrels to forage for food less efficiently and makes competition from the greys harder to face. The problem is so severe that it could wipe out red squirrels entirely where they share woodlands with the intruders. Red squirrels normally carry only one type of parasitic worm, or'helminth', in their stomach and intestines -- those of the species Trypanoxyuris sciuri. This means that they are therefore sensitive to foreign parasites transmitted by other animals -- including those of the alien grey squirrel.
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 scientists who cloned Dolly the sheep are now targeting grey squirrels in a bid to rid Britain of them altogether. Researchers at the Roslin Institute want to use DNA modification to make all female grey squirrels infertile. They are looking at creating a'gene drive' for male greys that would spread to females when they mate. Experts claim this would eradicate Britain's grey squirrel population completely in the most humane way possible. They want to decrease the number of greys in a bid to protect the few-remaining red squirrels left across the British Isles.
They've already driven out red squirrels, and gardeners have long suspected them of digging up tulip bulbs. Now grey squirrels have another target – bird feeders. Researchers have warned they are snaffling the nuts and seeds left out for tits, nuthatches and finches. The team from the University of Reading, who filmed 19 suburban gardens and recorded more than 33,000 visits by wildlife, caught grey squirrels taking food from feeders almost half of the time. Ready meal: a grey squirrel tucks into bird food provided at a Nottingham home (stock photo).