Page last updated at 06:06 GMT, Thursday, 8 October 2009 07:06 UK

Plan for red squirrels on Gower

Red squirrel (Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire)
Red squirrels are a native British species, unlike their grey cousins

Conservation groups are looking at proposals to return red squirrels to the Gower peninsula, some 30 years after the population died out.

A cull of grey squirrels at Oxwich Bay on the peninsula, near Swansea, could begin next year, say experts.

Red squirrels were reintroduced on Anglesey in north Wales in the 1990s.

Dr Craig Shuttleworth, who oversees the Anglesey red squirrel conservation project, said: "We've identified places where me might do it."

Dr Shuttleworth said the proposal also envisages later reintroducing red squirrels to Swansea's Clyne Valley, overlooking the Mumbles and the location of a country park.

He said: "It would be an exciting but hard proposition. There's a lot of ground work to be done but it is something that we're looking at.

"The culling of greys may start next year. The reds would be introduced some years afterwards. You have to have successful removal of the greys first.

Red abd grey squirrels
Red squirrels are much smaller, weighing 270g-320g, than the grey squirrel which typically weigths 550g-700g
Greys are non-native, introduced to the UK from North America in 1876
The grey squirrel was first recorded on Anglesey in the mid 1960s and rapidly replaced red squirrels by competing with them for food
The grey is a highly destructive woodland pest causing serious damage to hardwood trees.
Red squirrels face an uncertain future elsewhere in Wales although small colonies an be found in forests near Bala and the spruce plantation of Clocaenog in Denbighshire
Source: Anglesey Red Squirrel Project

"It should be okay because we've been doing it on Anglesey for five or six years. It's given us the expertise of what to do and what not to do."

He said it is estimated that reds disappeared from Gower in the 1970s or possibly early 80s.

On Thursday, Dr Shuttleworth, 39, spokesman for the Friends of the Anglesey Red Squirrels, is travelling to East Anglia to pick up eight more red squirrels to be released on Anglesey.

He said the island has a red squirrel population of around 300 adults, including those near Beaumaris, the first successful reintroduction of reds to broadleaf woodland, and the type of forest on Gower and in the Clyne Valley being considered for a red reintroduction.

Dr Shuttleworth is also national operations director of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, launched by the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, in April this year, which aims to fund research into controlling the fertility of greys.

Laboratory work on a fertility control for greys is being conducted by the UK environment ministry, Defra.

Dr Shuttleworth has put Anglesey forward as a location if the research moves on to field studies, but he added that culling of greys would still be necessary on the Gwynedd side of the Menai Strait as they were using the Menai and Britannia bridges to cross the water.

He said: "I don't think we could get an eradication of greys with an immuno-contraceptive, it would lower their numbers.

"In order to eradicate them, you would need to ensure all the animals [squirrels] consumed the bait regularly. Some killing would always be necessary."

He said the Anglesey red squirrel used around 400 live traps to catch and kill greys near the red squirrel populations.

A Defra spokeswoman said: "Defra and the Forestry Commission continue to collaborate on research into the potential use of immuno-contraception as a method for population control of grey squirrels.


"This is part of a larger Defra-led project looking at proving the concept of fertility control methods for a range of problem species."

A spokeswoman for the National Trust said the organisation backed red squirrel programmes, although they did consume "considerable resources" to ensure their success.

She said: "We are quite happy to look at the Red Squirrel Survival Trust's proposals as we support the introduction of red squirrels in the UK in a number of key sites, including Ynys Mon."

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