Battle to save last stronghold of the red squirrel

A UNIQUE conservation plan is stopping England's biggest surviving population of red squirrels from dying out in 11 years time due to a lack of food.

Kielder Forest District, whose 150 million trees span 200 square miles from County Durham to the Scottish border, contains England's biggest forest, and is one of the few places in England where red squirrels are still abundant. Numbers of the species are declining on a national scale and in 1995 the Government listed it as a priority species for conservation.

Researchers from Newcastle University, working with Forest Enterprise who manage Kielder, have helped foresters to redesign the layout of a conservation area which will ensure its native squirrels have adequate food and will survive for the next 40 years at least. The plan has the backing of neighbouring private landowners.

The Newcastle team hope to receive support to expand their work to the rest of Kielder District as the survival of the species as a whole depends on careful management of the forest habitat. The work has the potential to be applied to conservation areas for squirrels and other endangered species.

Wildlife experts estimate up to 10,000 native red squirrels live in Kielder Forest, which is also one of Europe's largest man-made commercial forests. The red squirrels at Kielder are an added attraction for the half a million visitors who visit the area each year and keep up to a third of local people in jobs in the tourism industry.

Kielder has a red squirrel action plan and one area, Spadeadam Forest, has already been designated as a squirrel conservation area.

University ecologists, from the Centre for Life Sciences Modelling (CLSM), assessed the layout for another proposed red squirrel conservation area at Kidland Forest, where several hundred of the animals are said to live. They found that a felling and design plan which Forest Enterprise was replacing would have drastically reduced food sup

Contact: Claire Jordan
University of Newcastle upon Tyne

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