Where Have All The Squirrels Gone?
My Disappointing Forays To Our Local Red Squirrel Reserve
My wife and I recently visited our local red squirrel reserve at Formby, Merseyside. It’s supposedly one of the last strongholds of England’s endangered red squirrel population. I say ‘supposedly’ because, although I’ve visited the reserve on several occasions over the years, I’ve yet to see a squirrel there.
My wife tells me she’s seen them here many years ago and on our recent visit a lady from the Woodland Trust assured us that there are around 250–300 individuals in the area, but despite spending time scanning the trees, both with binoculars and our naked eyes, we saw not hide nor hair of any of them.
I searched online for more information about them. The reserve is a big tourist attraction in the area. One of the websites claimed that the squirrels are “accustomed to being fed and are very tame.”
I’ll have to take their word for it.
We saw numerous feeding platforms in the trees but these were empty and falling into disrepair. The Woodland Trust lady told us that the volunteers who used to fill the feeding stations every day had discontinued the practice due to several outbreaks of squirrel pox.
Squirrel pox is a fatal virus for red squirrels. An outbreak in Merseyside in 2008 saw the red squirrel population wiped out by 80%. Although their numbers have now recovered to almost what they were before that outbreak, the disease remains a constant threat.
It seems that the practice of feeding the squirrels, having them congregate together in unnaturally high numbers, was increasing the spread of the disease. Ironically, in trying to preserve and protect the red squirrels they were actually doing more harm than good.
Nowadays, the squirrels are dispersed more evenly across the reserve, making them harder to see but keeping them safer from infection.
However, there is a darker side to this story.
You see, the red squirrels are surrounded on all sides by grey squirrels. Grey…