March 12th, 2019
Native red squirrel numbers are on the rise as its grey rival declines in areas where the protected pine marten has started to recover, according to researchers.
Since their introduction in 1911, the grey squirrel has spread
throughout a large area of the island of Ireland. The red squirrel, although
still quite widespread, has disappeared from many forests as a result of
competition and disease spread by the greys.
The most recent population survey in 2012 found, however, that the
grey squirrel had retreated in certain areas, potentially linked to the recovery of the
In the midlands of Ireland and Fermanagh, where pine martin
densities are highest, grey squirrels have disappeared, the survey found.
The pine marten has made a considerable recovery in Ireland, since
it became protected under the Irish Wildlife Act of 1976 and due to a ban on
the use of poisons.
Zoology researchers from the Ryan Institute in NUI Galway have now
teamed up with Ulster Wildlife and Vincent Wildlife Trust to determine the
latest distribution of red and grey squirrels and the pine marten in Ireland.
The group are inviting members of the public to participate in a
Citizen Science survey and record their sightings of the three mammal species
The results will allow the team to compare the current status of
the animals with previous surveys conducted in 1997, 2007 and 2012.
According to the researchers, the native red squirrel has lived alongside the pine marten for centuries, and can relatively happily co-exist alongside the small omnivore.
Red squirrel numbers have increased and they have returned to
woods where they had previously disappeared as their nearest competitor the
grey squirrel declines, the research group said.
Dr Colin Lawton from NUI Galway said that the involvement of citizens all over the island of Ireland will be “vital” in helping to record the progress of the species.
“This is a fascinating story where the recovery of one native
species, the pine marten, has slowed the progress of an invasive species, the
grey squirrel. The red squirrel, another native species, has shown signs of
recovery as a result,” he said.
Conor McKinney, from Ulster Wildlife, added: “This is a superb opportunity for people to contribute to exciting new research by uploading their squirrel and pine marten photos and letting us know where they saw the animal, how often they see it and what it was doing.”
Members of the public can record their sightings using the 2019 All-Ireland Squirrel and Pine Marten Survey pages hosted by the National Biodiversity Data Centre.
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