The reds are coming back to Killiney


FIFTEEN RED squirrels are to be released in Killiney in south Dublin next week as part of a conservation project.

The Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown red squirrel conservation project will see the introduction of 15 native squirrels to Killiney Hill Park following a cull of grey squirrels in the area.

The reds have already been taken from Raven Nature Reserve in Co Wexford and are in enclosures on the hill to acclimatise them to their new home before they are released.

They will supplement the small local population which has dwindled in recent years.

The red squirrel, although native, has undergone a steady decline across the country largely due to competition from the introduced grey squirrel, which came to Ireland from North America over 100 years ago.

The grey squirrel was introduced at Castleforbes, Co Longford, in 1911, according to the National Parks and Wildlife Service All-Ireland Species Action Plan. Since then it has spread rapidly and is found in 26 of the 32 counties of the island of Ireland.

There are thought to be at least 250,000 greys, while there are an estimated 40,000 reds in the whole of Ireland.

The larger size of the grey, combined with its less specialised habitat and ability to consume unripe acorns that are toxic to the red, means it has a competitive advantage.

It is also a carrier of a virus which is deadly to reds.

Only two urban populations of red squirrels remain in Dublin at Killiney and Howth Head.

The conservation project is being undertaken by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council under licence from and with the financial help of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Will Carr of Sciurus Ecological Solutions is assisting with the project, which will attempt to develop a healthy population of reds on Killiney Hill.

Twenty-two grey squirrels were removed from the hill in 2007 and they were continuously trapped and removed whenever they were spotted there, Mary Toomey, biodiversity officer with the council, said yesterday.

Four greys a year have been removed in the last few years. Their numbers have also been controlled in surrounding public areas that support them as part of an All-Ireland Species Action Plan.

The council also hopes private landowners in the area might co-operate in the removal of greys on their land.

“If the red squirrel is to survive, it is the only way we can do it,” Ms Toomey said.

The new red squirrels will be released from their enclosure next week after they have become acclimatised to their new location. This would make it more likely that they would stay on the hill in the long term instead of dispersing, Ms Toomey said.

She said the hill could support 25 red, and in a habitat as far as Ballybrack, another 25 could be supported if greys were kept under control.

“We’d like a sustainable population of 25 by the end of year two,” she added.