Formby Freshfield Red Squirrels: Why do we need them and what do they do for the ecosystem?

Image: Gary Bruce/UK Squirrel AccordImage: Gary Bruce/UK Squirrel Accord
Image: Gary Bruce/UK Squirrel Accord | Image: Gary Bruce/UK Squirrel Accord
Our little red friends have are listed as an endangered species.

Once a common sight across the UK, red squirrels are now an endangered species, and Formby is known as one of the areas lucky enough to home the cute creatures.

However, despite the efforts of volunteers and several organisations, spotting a red squirrel in Formby is becoming a rare occurence, with many recent TripAdvisor reviews for the park stating they were disappointed to not see a single one.

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Why are we losing our red squirrels?

Due to their overall population declines, red squirrels are classed as endangered on The Mammal Society’s Red List for Britain’s Mammals.

Image: Andy Jackson/UK Squirrel AccordImage: Andy Jackson/UK Squirrel Accord
Image: Andy Jackson/UK Squirrel Accord | Image: Andy Jackson/UK Squirrel Accord

According to UK Squirrel Accord, ‘the population has fallen from a high of around 3.5 million in the UK, to the current rough estimate of 287,000. Around 75% are found in Scotland, with the population in England thought to be as low as 29,500.’

The organisation listed threats as predators, disease, roads and land-use change. However, the introduction of the invasive non-native grey squirrel from North America is the main reason behind the sharp decline since the 1800s.

North Merseyside and Western Lancashire is a red squirrel stronghold, and in their latest report, Merseyside and Lancashire Red Squirrel Trust (MLRST) said there was a ‘significant decrease’ of red squirrels in North Formby transects, but noted an increase in Sourh Formby.

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The Trust said it seems they are recovering from the squirrel pox outbreak of 2019, and noted an increase in red squirrels sighted across Ainsdale.

Image: Wilson Johnston/UK Squirrel AccordImage: Wilson Johnston/UK Squirrel Accord
Image: Wilson Johnston/UK Squirrel Accord | Image: Wilson Johnston/UK Squirrel Accord

They also mentioned an increase in grey squirrels across the stronghold.

Why do we need red squirrels?

Pete Muldoon from Red Alert Lancashire and Merseyside told LiverpoolWorld: “Red Squirrels provide an indication of a healthy ecosystem, having evolved alongside the flora and fauna of the British Isles their presence shows whether the rest of the environment is healthy.

“They are much less destructive that the grey squirrel, and are a valuable contributor to the growth and health of woodlands by burying nuts and seeds.”

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Image: Nicholas Box/UK Squirrel AccordImage: Nicholas Box/UK Squirrel Accord
Image: Nicholas Box/UK Squirrel Accord | Image: Nicholas Box/UK Squirrel Accord

Grey squirrels compete with birds for food and cause more damage to trees, stripping sap from the bark, because of their population density.

Who are Red Alert?

Red Alert Lancashire and Merseyside are a volunteer group engaged with all aspects of red squirrel conservation.

Pete Muldoon said: “We work to raise public awareness and funds for the work we perfom. We’re often called upon to collect sick, injured or dead red squirrels which includes assisting with the release of orphaned red squirrels back into the wild, we provide the manpower for numerous red squirrel related citizen science projects like our twice yearly monitoring program or radio tracking, and we assist with controlling grey squirrels across the area.

“We have been performing the longest running monitoring program of red and grey squirrel populations within the UK.

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“For over 20 years, our volunteers have risen with the dawn and walked along well defined transects located across the stronghold. We record the location, habitat, weather and the number of squirrels sightings, and the results are fed into Geographic Information Systems to allow reporting of the relative spread and population densities of both red and grey squirrels.

Image: Hazel Clark/UK Squirrel AccordImage: Hazel Clark/UK Squirrel Accord
Image: Hazel Clark/UK Squirrel Accord | Image: Hazel Clark/UK Squirrel Accord

“Residents are also encouraged to report individual sightings to allow a more complete picture across the area and throughout the year.”

“The work we do is mainly limited by the availability of volunteers and funding, and public awareness is key to acquiring both - we can always use more help through donations of time and financial support.

“We are a local group and don’t have access to large resources, so we are reliant upon the dedication of our volunteers and the assistance of the residents of Merseyside and Lancashire, particularly along the Sefton Coast and West Lancashire.”

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How can I help?

Merseyside and Lancashire Red Squirrel Trust have said that anyone who finds a poorly red squirrel should take them to the vet immediately - vets will not charge for wildlife.

They also remind the public that squirrels can bite, so wear thick gloves and put the squirrel in a cat carrier if you can.

It is also important not to feed red squirrels when you come across them, incase of contamination.

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