Page last updated at 01:25 GMT, Saturday, 4 October 2008 02:25 UK

Help red squirrels, public urged

A red squirrel
Red squirrels can be killed by a virus passed on by their grey cousins

The public are being urged to track the UK's red squirrel population to help protect it from a deadly virus.

The Wildlife Trusts charity wants to guard against the threat posed to the UK's estimated 160,000 red squirrels by squirrel pox, carried by greys.

By people reporting sightings of reds during Squirrel Week, which starts later, it hopes to identify areas where protective measures may be required.

These could include culling of grey squirrels, which are more common.

Conservationists say culling is a necessary evil to help preserve red squirrels for the future.

Declining numbers

The native red squirrel has been given the highest level of protection under UK law through the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Its numbers have been declining steadily since the introduction of its bigger and bolder cousin, the North American grey, in the 19th Century.

There are believed to be just 25,000 reds left in England, concentrated in a few pockets including the Isle of Wight, Poole Harbour in Dorset, Northumberland, Cumbria and Merseyside.

A number of organisations across the UK will co-ordinate the week-long squirrel-tracking project, including Save our Squirrels in Northumberland.


It comes down to which is the native species - the one that belongs here - and which is the alien invader

Philippa Mitchell
Save our Squirrels

Philippa Mitchell from the organisation said the red species could die out in just 10 years unless action was taken.

Conservationists are hoping to develop a vaccine against squirrel pox within that time period.

Ms Mitchell said more cases of the disease, which does not affect grey squirrels, were spotted every month and the problem was most acute in the autumn.

She said: "The young are moving into new areas at this time of year, so young greys could be moving into areas where they weren't before, and could be taking squirrel pox with them."

The public is also asked to report sightings of grey squirrels so that conservationists can find out if they have invaded areas where red squirrels live.

Ms Mitchell said the only way to deal with the aggressive grey population was to cull them.

She said: "It comes down to which is the native species - the one that belongs here - and which is the alien invader.

"The red is a protected species."




SEE ALSO
'No alternative' to squirrel cull
27 Aug 08 |  South of Scotland
Funding to stem squirrel threat
25 Jul 08 |  Merseyside
Recruits hired for squirrel fight
22 Jul 08 |  South of Scotland
Red squirrels in disease threat
20 Jun 08 |  Merseyside
Efforts continue to trap squirrel
05 Jun 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Your pictures: Red squirrels
04 Oct 08 |  In Pictures

RELATED BBC LINKS

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific