Red squirrel. Photo: Joe Kilroy

Public asked to help with red squirrel and pine marten survey

March 12th, 2019

Native red squirrel numbers are on the rise as its grey rival declines in areas where the protected pine marten has started to recover, according to researchers.

Since their introduction in 1911, the grey squirrel has spread throughout a large area of the island of Ireland. The red squirrel, although still quite widespread, has disappeared from many forests as a result of competition and disease spread by the greys.

The most recent population survey in 2012 found, however, that the grey squirrel had retreated in certain areas, potentially linked to the recovery of the pine marten.

In the midlands of Ireland and Fermanagh, where pine martin densities are highest, grey squirrels have disappeared, the survey found.

The pine marten has made a considerable recovery in Ireland, since it became protected under the Irish Wildlife Act of 1976 and due to a ban on the use of poisons.

Zoology researchers from the Ryan Institute in NUI Galway have now teamed up with Ulster Wildlife and Vincent Wildlife Trust to determine the latest distribution of red and grey squirrels and the pine marten in Ireland.

The group are inviting members of the public to participate in a Citizen Science survey and record their sightings of the three mammal species during 2019.

The results will allow the team to compare the current status of the animals with previous surveys conducted in 1997, 2007 and 2012.

According to the researchers, the native red squirrel has lived alongside the pine marten for centuries, and can relatively happily co-exist alongside the small omnivore.

Pine Marten Photo: Ronald Surgenor
Pine Marten Photo: Ronald Surgenor

Red squirrel numbers have increased and they have returned to woods where they had previously disappeared as their nearest competitor the grey squirrel declines, the research group said.

Dr Colin Lawton from NUI Galway said that the involvement of citizens all over the island of Ireland will be “vital” in helping to record the progress of the species.

This is a fascinating story where the recovery of one native species, the pine marten, has slowed the progress of an invasive species, the grey squirrel. The red squirrel, another native species, has shown signs of recovery as a result,” he said.

Ruth Hanniffy of the Vincent Wildlife Trust said: “We encourage members of the public to participate in this new Citizen Science survey to document the distribution of two of our native mammals, the pine marten and red squirrel, and that of the non-native grey squirrel. We hope the data collected will help us to better understand the relationships between them.”

Members of the public can record their sightings using the 2019 All-Ireland Squirrel and Pine Marten Survey pages hosted by the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

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