Why Are Red Squirrels Endangered in the UK?

In the UK, you will find two species of squirrels which are red and grey. Red squirrels are native to the UK, while grey squirrels were introduced to the UK in the 18th and 19th centuries. Unfortunately, however, the native squirrel numbers are declining. So why are red squirrels endangered in the UK?

Red squirrels are endangered in the UK because of the threat from non-native grey squirrels who can spread fatal diseases. 

Red squirrels cannot live together with grey squirrels. Due to the increase in the population of grey squirrels, the red squirrels have become isolated to remote locations.

To protect the red squirrels, they must be kept apart from the grey squirrels, which is a difficult task to manage, especially between two wild animals.

What are the Main Threats to Red Squirrels?

Red squirrels face one main threat: Grey squirrels.

To many people, it comes as a surprise that one squirrel can be a threat to another – they’re just the same with different coloured coats, right?

Not quite! The past has already shown that the red squirrels have struggled to survive ever since the grey squirrels entered England. Buy why is this the case? 

Grey squirrels are a threat to red squirrels because they carry Parapoxvirus, a disease deadly to red squirrels. While the virus does not affect the grey squirrel, it is fatal for red squirrels. 

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But the negative impact doesn’t end there. Grey squirrels feed on green acorns while red squirrels wait for them to ripen. The grey squirrels finish the acorns before the red ones even get the chance to eat.

Another threat to red squirrels is the destruction of woodlands to build infrastructure. Woodlands are the red squirrel’s habitat and end up fleeing to more urban areas where they struggle to find food and are killed by traffic.

Woodland Red Squirrel

Should We Save the Red Squirrels?

If red squirrels vanished from the ecosystem, will it have drastic effects? It is important to highlight the dangers to the ecosystem if red squirrels were to dissipate from the Earth’s surface.

When people understand the importance of squirrels, then only will they come forward and save them. 

Red squirrels feed on acorns, seeds, and nuts. The red squirrels look for their food by jumping from tree to tree, which results in pollination.

Apart from pollination, squirrels are responsible for spreading spores of mycorrzzial fungi. These fungi are important because their symbiotic relationship with trees is what helps them survive. 

Red squirrels are better for spreading seeds of coniferous trees as they feed on the cones. Coniferous woodlands thrive because of red squirrels. 

Do Grey Squirrels Help Trees Too?

Not at all!

Grey squirrels are causing harm to trees because they rip the bark off to drink the sap. Since grey squirrels are in great numbers, they are causing more and more damage.

Grey squirrels are more likely to attack birds and nests than red squirrels. 

It is important to save the red squirrels because it will adversely affect the woodlands if they become extinct.  

How Can We Help Red Squirrels

Understanding the importance of red squirrels helps people take responsibility for saving red squirrels. There are many ways you can do your part and save these endangered squirrels from going extinct:

The most basic way you can help red squirrels is by putting out food for them. If you spot any red squirrels in your neighbourhood, you can put nuts such as peanuts, pecans, walnuts for them to consume.

If you have a garden, you can grow plants that red squirrels like. These plants include wild cherries, raspberries, and brambles. You can also grow plant shrubs for red squirrels to eat. 

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You can place a feeding station dedicated to red squirrels. However, you need to ensure that you place the station at a height so the red squirrels are safe from any cats.

You must be careful about red squirrels crossing any open roads to reach the food station. 

While feeding red squirrels, keep a lookout for grey squirrels. Red squirrels and grey squirrels cannot survive together because grey squirrels carry squirrel pox. While grey squirrels are immune to squirrel pox, it is deadly to red squirrels. 

It would help if you tried finding red squirrels near you. It is easy to spot a red squirrel in the trees and woods. By finding red squirrels, you can go to their spot and feed them. 

If you’ve never seen a red squirrel in your neighbourhood or garden then, unfortunately, you might not be able to do a lot as chances are red squirrels simply have been outnumbered by grey squirrels and it’s already too late! 

Summary 

Red squirrels are native to England. It is in the 18th and 19th centuries that grey squirrels were introduced in the UK. Unfortunately, since grey squirrels were introduced, there has been a decline in the population of red squirrels, and they have become endangered.

Red squirrels cannot survive with grey squirrels. Grey squirrels carry squirrel pox, which they are immune to but are fatal to red squirrels. Moreover, grey squirrels like to eat acorns before they ripen, so there is no food for red squirrels. Loss of woodland also contributes to the decline in the red squirrel population.

Red squirrels are important to the ecosystem, especially the coniferous woodlands. Hence, to help save the red squirrels, you can put food out and look out for them.

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