Squirrel Action Greenhead & Gilsland
In conjunction with
Red squirrels threatened by
The new study shows that squirrel poxvirus is threatening to wipe out red squirrels from some of their last remaining refuges in northern England over the next ten years. In regions where the virus has been found, the rate of decline in Red squirrels is 17-25 times higher than in areas where there has been no outbreak.
Until now the reds' main survival challenge was thought to be competition with grey squirrels over resources. However, this research highlights the urgency for new conservation strategies for the red squirrel, a species that has been in Britain for the last 10,000 years and is protected under the UK's Wildlife and Countryside Act.
Researchers say that in the absence of a vaccine for the disease the
only effective way of stopping the spread is to target grey squirrel
control at the narrow entry points and corridors to England's 16 designated
red squirrel refuges by killing the small numbers of greys that may come
The research team - Newcastle University, Queen Mary, University of
London, and other partners* - makes its recommendations for grey squirrel
management in two academic journals, Epidemiology and Infection and Biological
Conservation. The Mammals Trust UK and Forestry Commission, England (Kielder
Forest District) funded the work.
The team then simulated various management strategies using a computer model. Although results suggested that a continuous cull of more than 60 per cent of greys would be needed to save red squirrels on a landscape scale, researchers reasoned this approach would be costly, require complete coverage, long-term commitment and is unrealistic.
The team therefore recommend in the Biological Conservation study that
the only practical and humane way forward is the strategy of red squirrel
refuge areas where control of grey squirrels bringing the disease could
be targeted locally along likely entry points.
Dr Peter Lurz is a co-author of both studies and a research associate
at the Institute for Research on Environment and Sustainability (IRES)
at Newcastle University. He said: 'It is vital we get this disease under
control, especially as it is now threatening to spread across the border
to Scotland with severe consequences for red squirrel conservation there.
Tony Sainsbury, Lecturer in Wild Animal Health at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), commented: 'The cases seen by ZSL's national red squirrel disease surveillance programme clearly demonstrate the severity and debilitating nature of the squirrel poxvirus disease on red squirrels.
'Given that the grey squirrel is an introduced species, and therefore the disease has occurred as a consequence of human action, the onus is very much on us to look for practical solutions to control the disease and protect red squirrels from this fatal disease. Our work concludes that targeted control is the most viable way forward.'
Courtesy of Newcastle University.
©SAGG C kippax 2007