Good neighbours: How pine martens are helping red squirrels survive
Public asked to record sightings of species to track red squirrel population’s recovery
The red squirrel, although still quite widespread, has disappeared from many forests as a result of competition and disease spread by the greys. Photograph: Joe Kilroy
Everywhere, precious species are in decline. Sometimes, however, there is good news, such as the rare example of the recovery of the long-threatened Irish red squirrel.
The public are being asked to take part by recording any sightings they make this year. The results will then be compared with previous surveys conducted in 1997, 2007 and 2012, but the latest survey will be the most detailed yet.
Since their introduction in 1911 (a one-off introduction in Co Longford) the American grey squirrel, which is more aggressive than its red cousin, has spread throughout much of the island.
Long considered vermin, grey squirrels destroy native woodland, strip young saplings of their bark, dig up flowers and raid birds’ nests. However, they do not kill their red cousins.
Instead, they carry the deadly squirrel parapox virus, which does no harm to greys, but, if picked up by a red squirrel, will cause the infected animal to suffer an excruciating death within weeks.
It seems the grey squirrels are not able to cope with this predator
Reverse the tide
However, pine martens are helping to reverse the tide, since the greys are easier for the martens to catch, while the reds are smaller and more nimble and spend less time foraging for food on the ground.
“It seems the grey squirrels are not able to cope with this predator, either because they are naïve to the dangers, or are becoming stressed when the pine marten is present,” Dr Lawton.
“The native red squirrel, on the other hand, has lived alongside the pine marten for centuries, and although occasionally eaten, they can co-exist quite happily,” he said.
More information at: biodiversityireland.ie