||Belleek woods, outside Ballina, had no squirrels
until five were transferred there by the National Parks
and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in 2007.
Four more squirrels have been released into the woods
so far this year and, already, there is evidence of successful
breeding, with at least two adults having given birth
to litters of young squirrels known as kittens.
If conditions are favourable, the squirrels can breed up
to twice a year, giving birth to two or three kittens at a
Visiting the project, Mr John Gormley, TD, Minister for the
Environment, Heritage & Local Government said he was delighted
with the early success. "The Red Squirrel is one of Ireland's
most endangered mammals - it is declining at about 1% per
annum, so I am particularly pleased to see how well this pilot
project is working" - said the Minister.
The spread of the North American grey squirrel is largely
responsible for the red's decline. A national survey - carried
out in 2007 - showed that the grey is now found in 26 out
of 32 counties. Mayo is one of the last grey squirrel-free
Transferring red squirrels to safe areas, where the
greys are not prevalent, is one of the conservation
actions being investigated as a possible tool to secure
the future of the species in Ireland.
Minister Gormley went on to acknowledge the cooperation
that has made the squirrel translocation project possible.
"Although the translocation project is being overseen and
funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, it is very
much a collaborative effort with the local community and with
Coillte - the landowner" - the Minister said - "and, as such,
provides a model which other projects could follow."
More squirrels will be transferred to Belleek during the
year. The NPWS's animal ecologist Dr Ferdia Marnell explained
- "This is an exciting development so early in the project,
but we still need to transfer another 10 animals to provide
a good genetic mix for the population. After that, follow-up
monitoring will continue for another two years to make sure
the squirrels have well and truly established."
Two pilot translocations of red squirrels are underway
in Ireland - one to Belleek Wood outside Ballina, with
the other in Connemara.
With funding from NPWS, a team from NUI Galway, led
by Dr Colin Lawton, is monitoring the squirrels at both
sites. They will determine breeding success, habitat
use and dispersal patterns over a 2-year period.
At the end of the study, they will advise on the potential
value of further translocations for red squirrel conservation
in Ireland. No further translocation will be licensed in the
The red squirrel is a protected species and capturing and
moving them is subject to licences from NPWS. Such translocation
projects must also follow strict international guidelines
(from the IUCN).
The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government
will shortly publish a Species Action Plan (SAP) for
the red squirrel. The new plan outlines the conservation actions
needed to secure the future of the red squirrel throughout
the island of Ireland over the coming five years. It is a
collaborative effort between the NPWS in the south and the
Environment and Heritage Service [EHS] in Northern Ireland.