Red Squirrels at Trelowarren
At the Royal Cornwall Show this year Prince Charles announced he was supporting a project to reintroduce red squirrels into Cornwall. As Patron of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust he welcomed a Cornish initiative by the Cornwall Red Squirrel Project to research and develop a re-introduction campaign.
The RSST has assisted successful projects in Anglesey, Merseyside and several other areas mainly in the north of England and Scotland where reds still just survive the incursions of the more dominant and disease carrying grey squirrel. Red squirrels do exist in the south of England on Brownsea Island and the Isle of Wight but in general the grey, an American cousin introduced in the late 19th century, has been the cause of their almost complete extinction in southern England.
The plan in Cornwall is to create a grey squirrel proof cordon across the Lizard starting at Penrose Estate (NT), going across Culdrose and out to the mid Helford River at Groyne point. No grey squirrels should be allowed to cross this exclusion zone and when it is completed we will slowly remove the greys squirrels on the peninsula.
Trelowarren has been identified by the scientists as having an ideal red squirrel habitat and so the estate is taking the lead in the Lizard part of the project. In preparation we will spend considerable time on persuading local residents, schools and visitors that it is a good idea.
The last red squirrel was seen at Trelowarren in the 1960s and the last one was seen in Cornwall in 1984. They were killed off by squirrel pox, which is carried by the grey squirrels, and by intense competition for their habitat. There are many reasons to want to succeed in bringing our own red squirrels back – not only is the red squirrel an iconic denizen of our English woodlands but also the grey squirrel, which lives in much greater numbers and density, causes high levels of damage to our woodlands (and therefore our bio-mass production) and also eats significant quantities of song bird eggs.
We believe that a successful reintroduction of red squirrels would have good economic benefits for the Lizard with many visitors coming to see them. They are much more friendly than greys and will actually come down out of the trees to feed with humans very close by.
The way forward on the red squirrel re-introduction programme is to have a rational conversation between all the interested parties: this is not a project that can go ahead without the support of the community. We welcome the media’s interest in this project and hope that they see the opportunity here for an inclusive community debate, rather than community friction.