Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Grey-Free Zones Will Help Save Threatened Squirrels

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Grey-Free Zones Will Help Save Threatened Squirrels

Article excerpt

Byline: Tony Henderson

SQUIRREL wars are to be waged further afield as efforts to slow down the migration of greys is expanded.

A buffer zone has been widened west from Kielder Forest in Northumberland - the largest red squirrel reserve in the country which is managed by the Forestry Commission and which also includes the Cumbrian woods of Kershope and Spadeadam.

Buffer zones are a key part of efforts to protect reds from encroachment by providing a focus for grey squirrel control around 17 designated red squirrel reserves.

Now for the first time Forestry Commission grants will be available in the extended area covering 50 square miles to support land managers in tackling the spread of the greys.

Brendan Callaghan, of the Forestry Commission, said: "We know that the Cumbrian greys have a much higher incidence of carrying the pox virus, which is deadly when passed on to the reds.

"Although there are greys on the Scottish side of the Border, they don't carry the virus to anything like the same extent. That is why it makes sense to extend the Kielder buffer zone westwards to the sea to try and keep these grey populations apart, which will also help efforts north of the Border."

Between 60 and 80% of grey squirrels in Cumbria typically show antibodies for the squirrel pox virus when tested.

This means they have been exposed to the virus and may be carriers. The virus was not present in greys in Scotland until very recently. The first death of a red squirrel in Scotland due to the virus was in May 2007 near Dumfries.

The Kielder Forest reserve is home to around 60% of England's remaining red squirrels. The Forestry Commission has altered its design plans for the woodland - the largest in England - which will see only small-seed broadleaf trees planted in addition to conifers.

Reds enjoy a competitive advantage in this kind of habitat over the greys.

In the spring a review will be carried out to assess the effectiveness of the reserves, first established in 2004. …

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