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Sunday 20 October 2019

Red squirrels make comeback as pine martens prey on greys

A red squirrel
A red squirrel

Lynne Kelleher

IRELAND'S endangered red squirrel is making a comeback thanks to another little seen native species which is preying on the non-native grey squirrel.

The return of the pine marten to Irish forests has been credited with rising numbers of red squirrels as the cat-sized forest carnivore feeds on their less agile, grey counterparts.

The red squirrel has been under threat ever since its brasher, more industrious counterpart arrived from the US about 100 years ago.

But the resurgence of the pine marten could prove to be an unlikely saviour for the native squirrels. A study being carried out by University College Galway has found grey squirrel DNA in the droppings of pine martens which proves they are feeding on the newcomers.

In the RTE series, 'Living the Wildlife', presenter Colin Stafford Johnson says this could spell a turnaround in the fate of the native squirrel, which has been decimated in recent years. "There are a few woodlands in Ireland where the trend is being reversed and the grey squirrels are disappearing and the red squirrels are coming back."

"The only thing that really seems to have changed is that pine martens have arrived in those woodlands.

"So far this phenomenon has only been noticed in woodlands in Laois and Offaly and the Midlands where martens are well established again."

'Living the Wildlife' will be shown on RTE One tomorrow, at 7pm.

Irish Independent

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