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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 November 2005, 02:20 GMT
Reserves hope for red squirrels
Red squirrel
Red squirrels have been in decline since the 19th Century
The biggest drive undertaken to save Britain's native red squirrels from extinction is being launched.

The 1m strategy will focus on carefully-selected red squirrel reserves in forests in Cumbria, Yorkshire, Merseyside and Northumbria.

The species has been declining since American grey squirrels were introduced in the 19th Century, spreading illness and out-competing them for food.

Experts say they now out-number reds by 66 to 1.

Buffer zones

The North of England Red Squirrel Conservation Strategy is being launched by Red Alert North England, which is made up of wildlife trusts, the Forestry Commission and landowners.

The woodland areas chosen as reserves will be managed to support healthy populations of the creatures but will be less well suited to the larger grey squirrels.

It is fair to say they are one of the country's best-loved native mammals
Mike Pratt

Targeted grey squirrel control will take place in "buffer zones" surrounding the reserves to protect the reds.

It is hoped the reserves will cancel out the grey squirrel's natural competitive advantage.

Richard Pow, chair of Red Alert North England, said the new approach was the result of years of scientific research and hands-on experience.

He said: "All the major partners have been involved in developing this new approach to red squirrel conservation.

"We will be combining their resources and expertise to try to ensure that this extraordinary creature survives in England into the next century."

Previous efforts to safeguard red squirrel populations - characterised mainly by ad-hoc culling of grey squirrels - have proved largely unsuccessful.

Mike Pratt, chief executive of Northumberland Wildlife Trust, said public interest in an concern for red squirrels was at an all-time high and that hundreds of thousands of people came to Northumberland hoping to see the "iconic species" in the wild.

"It is fair to say they are one of the country's best-loved native mammals," he added.

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