It's a red alert as squirrels are sent west for survival
Published 31/01/2011 | 05:00
RED squirrels wearing 'backpack' tracker devices are being sent into the wild in the west in an attempt to secure their survival in Ireland.
The move by the National Parks and Wildlife Service to translocate red squirrels into six western counties follows the success of a breeding programme in Mayo and Galway.
The red squirrel is now one of the most threatened mammals in Ireland.
Under the translocation project, red squirrels are moved to areas where they face less competition from grey squirrels, a non-native species introduced into Ireland from North America in 1911.
Recent survey work has shown that the red squirrel is declining at approximately 1pc per annum, mainly due to competition from the grey squirrel.
Now, more red squirrels are being released in Donegal, Sligo, Kerry, Clare, Galway and Mayo.
This follows a report by the wildlife service attached to the Department of the Environment which shows that squirrels released two years ago in Derryclare, Galway and Beleek in Mayo, are thriving.
The aim is to secure the future of the red squirrel in Ireland over the coming five years.
It is estimated there are 40,000 pairs of red squirrels on the island of Ireland.
The red squirrel has been native to Ireland since before the last Ice Age, but has become extinct a number of times, with the removal of native woodlands playing a major part in this.
Most recently it was reintroduced in the 19th Century, but has again become rare under pressure from the grey squirrel and is now absent from areas along the west and north coasts.
However, the pesky grey squirrels are now in 16 of the 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland and in all six counties in the North, and they are expanding at a rate of 1.9km per year.
Grey squirrels are larger, more adaptable and the more aggressive of the two species. In addition they are carriers of parapox virus, which is not harmful to greys but is deadly to red squirrels.
Grey squirrels have not yet gained a foothold in counties west of the Shannon.