Page last updated at 07:12 GMT, Monday, 8 February 2010

Red squirrels conservation plan for Wales

Red squirrel
References to the red squirrel in Wales date back to the 13th Century

A conservation plan has been approved to help save red squirrels from extinction in Wales.

The plan includes designating as focal sites for urgent strategic action three areas in north and mid Wales where the species still thrives.

Assessing the potential impact of climate change on the only native UK squirrel is also included.

Environment Minister Jane Davidson said there is a duty to protect the animal for future generations.

Ms Davidson has approved the conservation plan with Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones.

We have a duty to protect red squirrels in Wales and to ensure that future generations will continue to have the privilege of seeing them in the wild
Environment Minister Jane Davidson

Red squirrels have gradually declined across the UK in recent years. Competition from the incomer grey squirrel, the spread of disease and, to a lesser extent, habitat loss have been factors in the decline.

Now they are found in only a handful of sites in Wales, with the main populations on Anglesey and the Clocaenog Forest in north Wales, and in the forests around the Tywi valley in mid Wales.

Ms Davidson said: "In recognition of the importance of these three populations, we have agreed that Anglesey, Clocaenog and mid Wales site site should be focal sites for red squirrels and that urgent strategic action is needed in these areas.

Identify and monitor populations, including surveying all sites with records of red squirrels in last 10 years
Monitor focal sites and prepare and implement management plans for them
Establish community groups to support and join conservation effort
Set up and maintain a database
Review the need for research - to assess, for example, potential impact of climate change
Source: Welsh Assembly Government

"We can no longer take red squirrels for granted, like other members of our fauna and flora, they have suffered as the result of the spread of a non-native species - the grey squirrel, " she said.

"We have a duty to protect red squirrels in Wales and to ensure that future generations will continue to have the privilege of seeing them in the wild."

Ms Jones said at one time, red squirrels were found in woodlands and forests throughout Wales and many people may remember seeing them during their childhood.

She also said genetic studies have shown that each of the red squirrel populations contain DNA which is unique to Wales.

The Wales Squirrel Forum is leading work to turn the conservation plan into action.

Liz Haliwell, mammal ecologist with the Countryside Council for Wales which chairs the forum said: "A lot of work is under way already to address the plight of red squirrels.

"With concerted action, based on this plan - and with the excellent support we have from members of the forum - there is real hope that this can become a conservation success story."

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