Squirrel Watch (posted 2 April 2018)
Click here to download details of the current project to monitor squirrel populations in the valley.
Since moving to the Lake District, my husband and I have been involved in Red Squirrel Conservation; initially working with the local community caring for road casualties brought to Trotters World of Animals by the public and over the next two years hand-rearing several young red kits, through a local vet. As the situation in the area changed with the coming of greys, first reported in 1997, then hearing of Alan Beck’s being taken on by LDNPA/National Trust in 2001 we turned to Grey control, mainly around Bassenthwaite Lake and responding to requests in the Bewaldeth area for shooting Greys attracted to feeders. Experience has since taught us that trapping is more efficient and we do what free time allows locally – particularly encouraging neighbours to take a trap, demonstrating its use and responding to calls that a trap contains a grey then dispatching/removing it, to avoid untrained people needing to attempt cranium dispatch.
After making a decision to make a full-time commitment to grey squirrel control now that my husband and I ‘empty nesters’ (I was a teacher, working in several local secondary schools/environmental education) I successfully applied for the post of North Lakes Red Squirrel Ranger for Red Squirrels Northern England after applying for several other ‘squirrel jobs’. I set about contacting landowners & managers within the project area to gain access to land for grey squirrel control work; (this is given to me exclusively and for a set period of time) I’m pleased to say that I’ve only had one refusal.
On day one with RSNE I already had 35 traps out and the pace hasn’t changed – I currently set out about 35 traps at a density of about 1 per hectare, by pacing the distance and then using experience to determine the most productive site according to RSNE protocol. The most robust method, is running trap lines, through the stronghold, in a methodical fashion in all suitable habitat to gain base line data to show the distribution of red and grey squirrels and their population trends, to maximise time and financial resources.
So far this approach has gained respect from local stakeholders, including farmers, landowners, game-keepers and so on. This systematic, measurable and transparent approach appeals to local people, who whilst happy for me to control greys as I see fit, are much more impressed by RSNE’s more professional approach; which as well as removing potentially 80% of the grey population in trapped areas, also gives an accurate ‘snap-shot’ of the red and grey population. (I’m prepared to produce the carcasses for the more sceptical, who have lost faith in squirrel control!)
Local people tend to be only too aware of the finances of the project and like to see careful use of this funding boost to grey squirrel control in the North of England. This means that grey control in the Whinlatter stronghold can be managed at a landscape scale, combining the vast wealth of skills and experience of volunteers, private pest controllers, River Bailiffs, National Trust staff and so on. Data collected is easily turned into maps, visually appealing and easily for visitors or landowners to understand, it also builds on work already carried out, and helping to give a co-ordinated strategic direction to excellent, in some cases outstanding, but fragmented previous efforts.
Day to day I respond to reports of sightings of greys/sick reds, requests for help/advise, contact landowners/managers, clean/repair traps, lay trap lines, pre-bait or service traps, lift the traps, disinfect and start again! I use 35 hours of paid RSNE time plus around 20 – 30 voluntary hours to achieve this. After a trapping session I aim to leave a legacy in the form of one or two traps in the area with the ‘right sort’ of people. RSNE has kindly allocated feeders and cameras to monitor the efficacy of the control in areas I have trapped. The first trapping season has been very productive, not only in terms of grey control, but in monitoring red populations and gaining baseline data. Lots of people have come forward to help trap and only two trap lines were interfered with – I suspect by the same person.
Initial planning included high lighting potential incursion routes into the red squirrel reserve of Whinlatter, broadleaved woodlands on desire lines (on goggle earth/OS maps) and known areas where greys are present throughout the whole of the Stronghold. After meeting various stakeholders, I decided to start my efforts by civil parish areas; Ireby/Uldale, Bassenthwaite, Wythop, Under Skiddaw, Setmurthy, back to Bassenthwaite, Keswick, and currently Above Derwent.
With strong local feeling (combined with a natural mistrust of outsiders?), I decided to concentrate on these most familiar areas first and then have a positive and productive example to share with communities in the other parishes at the end of the first season. Thus I am now at a point where I’m planning continued control in the area I’ve monitored & controlled, (via a co-ordinated group of volunteers where possible), whilst planning a concerted and multi-organisational approach to the town of Keswick, Borrowdale, St John’s, Castlerigg and Wythburn, and crucially for spring 2013 within the Melbreak Communities area.
My role is to support and, where appropriate, co-ordinate the tremendous effort undertaken by volunteers, farmers, pest controllers, gamekeepers and those paid to control greys via the Forestry Commission’s Woodland Improvement Grants Scheme.