Howth’s red squirrel population at risk from ‘aggressive’ greys

Green Party councillor suggests introducing pine martens to reduce greys on peninsula

Howth’s red squirrel population may be under threat. Photograph: iStock

Howth’s red squirrel population may be under threat. Photograph: iStock

 

The red squirrel population of Howth, Co Dublin, is at risk of being displaced by a growing number of aggressive grey squirrels on the peninsula.

Howth was previously identified as one of two remaining strongholds in Dublin for populations of native red squirrel. The other is in Killiney.

But an increase in invasive greys over recent years has raised concerns about the future of the capital’s few remaining reds.

Grey squirrels were introduced to Ireland in 1911 as a gift to a bride and groom at a Co Longford wedding. They are now established in about 20 counties and have forced the smaller red squirrels out of their natural habitats.

Green Party councillor David Healy said he is concerned that reds could be driven out of Howth. “There is definitely concern, having seen what happened throughout the rest of Dublin. . . if there isn’t any action the greys will displace the reds.”

Fingal County Council, in replies to questions from Mr Healy, said an increasing number of greys were recorded in Howth in 2014 and that by late 2015 “it became apparent that grey squirrels were becoming more aggressive and numerous on the peninsula and it was agreed by the Howth Special Amenity Area Order (SAAO) committee to organise a cull.”

However, a lack of resources meant this never took place. Now, the council says, a tender is being prepared for 2017 for a comprehensive management plan for the trapping, surveying, tagging and recording of all red squirrels and the trapping and culling of all greys on the peninsula.

Mr Healy said the SAAO conservation and biodiversity sub-committee will discuss ways to sustain the red squirrel population when it meets next week.

He said one option worth investigating is introducing pine martens to tackle grey squirrels. Martens can catch and kill greys much more easily than reds, which, being lighter, can retreat right to the ends of branches, where the martens cannot follow.

In 2013 a public awareness meeting highlighted the importance of community involvement of the squirrel population in Howth. To aid this an email address was created – howthpeninsulasquirrels@gmail.com.

Of the seven emails sent to the address in 2016, three were reporting sightings of red squirrels only, two reported sightings of both reds and greys and two reported sightings of greys.

Fingal said this week that any locations where greys have been seen in 2016 as well as any new sightings in 2017 “will be dealt with” as part of the squirrel management programme.