The Wales Squirrel Forum (WSF) and Wales Squirrel Partnership (WSP), aim to support effective red squirrel conservation and grey squirrel management in Wales.
The Wales Squirrel Forum comprises statutory, non statutory organisations and local groups, and aims to co-ordinate, support and provide advice on the implementation of the UK Red Squirrel Species Action Plan (SAP) in Wales. It works to agreed Terms of Reference (PDF-31K) and reports to the Wales Squirrel Partnership.
The Wales Squirrel Partnership provides a mechanism for information exchange and networking and membership is open to those with an interest in red squirrel conservation and grey squirrel management in Wales.
Minutes of the latest meetings of each group
Wales Squirrel Forum:
Minutes to follow.
Wales Squirrel Partnership:
Minutes to follow.
Key policies and issues
Wales Red Squirrel Strategy
A Wales Red Squirrel Strategy was produced by the Countryside Council for Wales in 1999 to highlight the priorities for action (Warren and Matthews 1999).
In 2009 the WSF prepared a Conservation Plan for Red Squirrels in Wales (PDF-401K) to replace the Strategy. This has been approved by the Environment Minister and the Rural Affairs Minister and sets out the action required to maintain red squirrels in Wales. An assessment process for focal sites for conservation action in Wales has been prepared and sites are currently being reviewed.
The main sites for red squirrels in Wales include:
- The central region (Tywi/Irfon/Crychan forest complex)
- Clocaenog in North Wales
These areas are all primarily commercial woodland plantations partially or fully owned and managed by Forestry Commission Wales.
Mid-Wales Red Squirrel Project
The Mid Wales Red Squirrel Project established in 2002 is working in the mid Wales forests to investigate further the presence and genetic make-up of the red squirrel population that is known to exist there. The project built on previous survey work undertaken by the Countryside Council for Wales. It is a partnership project between:
- Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales
- Brecknock Wildlife Trust
- The National Trust
- Countryside Council for Wales
- Forestry Commission Wales
- Three local authorities
- Private woodland managers
- Local volunteers.
Since 2004 trapping surveys have been carried out within coniferous plantations in forests which together cover 3500 ha of uplands and steep river valley sides. An assessment of the habitat has been undertaken. Targeted trapping has captured red and grey squirrels from all sites. DNA analysis suggests red squirrels in Wales belong to a relatively narrow lineage that may include an ancestral Welsh population.
The results of genetic analysis have implications for both the conservation of local populations and the conservation of red squirrels in Wales. Grey squirrels were present in various densities in project areas with approximately half being seropostive for the squirrelpox virus. It is of concern that some greys were captured in remote areas where greys would not be expected in such numbers.
Current issues being addressed include the recommendation that Tywi Forest be designated as a red squirrel reserve; focal areas for reds are identified and managed primarily for red squirrel conservation; to improve grey squirrel control effort particularly in focal areas, buffer zones and corridors, and to maintain and enhance red squirrel preferred habitat.
Further information on the Mid Wales Red Squirrel project can be found on the West Wales Biodiversity Information Centre (WWBIC) webpage.
Red Squirrel Conservation in Clocaenog Forest
A study of the squirrel population at Clocaenog between 1994 and 1999 showed that red and grey squirrels coexist in the forest with red squirrels favouring certain species of conifer (Scots pine, Norway spruce and Japanese larch).
Grey squirrels were mainly resident in broadleaf areas except in years of high conifer seed production, when they moved into coniferous areas to feed, particularly Norway spruce. Sitka spruce provided a poor quality habitat, although red squirrels used it particularly if in mixture with other conifers. In contrast grey squirrels were less likely to use Sitka spruce even in mixtures and hence and it may be an effective buffer zone against grey squirrel incursion.
Management recommendations emphasised the importance of Scots pine, Norway spruce and Japanese larch and the careful management of thinning and clear felling.
Current aims of the project are to provide improved guidance on the management of conifer forests for red squirrel conservation, including when and how grey squirrel control should be initiated. It will also investigate red squirrel densities and dispersal, monitor grey squirrels and the presence of squirrel poxvirus and investigate coning cycles.
Anglesey Red Squirrel Project
Forestry Commission Wales are working to safeguard the last remaining red squirrels on the island in partnership with:
- The community regeneration company Menter Môn
- Red Squirrels Trust Wales
- North Wales Wildlife Trust
- Esme Kirby Trust
- Anglesey County Council
- Countryside Council for Wales.
Control and monitoring of grey squirrels has been carried out on the island of Anglesey since 1988. Grey squirrels were eradicated from the Mynydd Llwydiarth Forest and the small remnant red squirrel population initially responded positively. However, the population has recently declined in response to poor conifer seed crops and a program of supplementary feeding was initiated during the winter 2004-05. Genetic studies indicate that the Mynydd Llwydiarth red squirrels all share a single mitochondrial haplotype which is unique within the UK, suggesting these squirrels may be related to the original native UK race of red squirrel, which was thought to have been lost due to the frequent use of continental red squirrels within historical re-introduction programmes.
Red squirrels were present in Newborough Forest on Anglesey until the mid 1990s. The Corsican pine plantation is now the location of a red squirrel re-introduction where five large captive breeding enclosures were constructed during 2003. Red squirrels were sourced through the UK Captive Breeding Stud Book which is administered by the Welsh Mountain Zoo. In 2004, three adult red squirrels were radio-collared and released into the forest, producing seven wild-born young. An additional sixteen young squirrels were born in the enclosures in the same year. In 2004 only ten grey squirrels were captured in Newborough Forest compared to almost five hundred in 2002.
Forestry Commission Wales and the Countryside Council for Wales are undertaking a public consultation process to consider options for the future management of the forest following earlier proposals that a core area of woodland be retained and managed as continuous cover, whilst trees from the coastal fringe are removed to restore the sand dune habitat.
Wales Squirrel Forum members