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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 June, 2005, 13:40 GMT 14:40 UK
Squirrels prove a difficult catch
Red squirrel
It has taken longer than we hoped to catch the red squirrels
Dr Lizzie Wilberforce
A project to find out more about the elusive red squirrel may be extended because they are proving difficult to catch.

The year-long scheme began in October when traps were set in woodland in Powys, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire.

But it took six months to catch four of the creatures, who were then assessed, tagged and released back into the wild.

The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales has applied for funding to extend the project by a further four months.

Numbers have been in serious decline and in Wales, there are just a few pockets of red squirrel sites in north, mid and south west Wales.

Dr Lizzie Wilberforce, of Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, said: "It has taken longer than we hoped to catch the red squirrels.

"Four were caught last month and they were assessed to help us find out more about the population in Wales.

"We hope to get more funding for the project from the Countryside Council for Wales' (CCW) species challenge fund and donations from private forestry.

"We'll know in a few days if we've been successful."

When wildlife experts started the project, they speculated that Wales could have its own "pure" race of red squirrels.

Red squirrel
Efforts are being made to protect red squirrels

The population is so isolated that the bloodline could be one of the purest in the UK.

Dr Wilberforce said the location where the red squirrels were found was being kept secret because experts did not want the animals disturbed.

"If we find out more about the red squirrel and where it lives then we can improve its habitat to encourage the population," added Dr Wilberforce.

The Mid Wales Red Squirrel Project is a partnership between the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, the CCW, the Forestry Commission, private woodland managers, and Carmarthenshire, Powys, and Ceredigion councils.

The red squirrel is widespread in many parts of Europe, but has largely been replaced by the grey squirrel in England and Wales.

There are around 2.5m greys in the UK, but only about 160,000 reds.

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