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Red alert as squirrel group tackles Silverdale’s greys

Bob Cartwright of Westmorland Red Squirrels (centre) and area organiser Bob Hamnett (right) at Silverdale park with Michael Holgate, holding a squirrel-proof bird feeder

[R]esidents and holidaymakers in Arnside and Silverdale are being urged to join a “red squad” of volunteers to help restore red squirrels to the area.

The organisers of the initiative, Westmorland Red Squirrels, hope that their efforts will herald a welcome return of the native reds which were once common in the region.

Their campaign was stepped up last week at a well-attended public meeting at Silverdale holiday park which is working in partnership with the group.

At the meeting to explain their quest, the two organisations issued a plea for both holiday guests and local people to become intelligence gatherers.

“Grey squirrels are the single greatest threat to our indigenous red squirrel population,” said the squirrel charity’s Bob Cartwright.

“We’d like volunteers to pinpoint where they regularly see grey squirrels, to stop feeding greys in their gardens and when on holiday, and to perhaps set traps which we can provide.

“Collective action such as this could see colonies of reds back within a few years,” he said.

Silverdale holiday park has pledged £5,000 to help fund the project, and business owner Michael Holgate told the meeting he had a special reason to support the cause.

As a youngster growing up on his family’s holiday park, said Michael, he had many treasured memories of spotting red squirrels nesting, feeding and playing in the park’s woodland.

That was 40 years ago, Michael explained, but grey squirrels have since invaded the Silverdale area and robbed the reds of their habitats and food resources.

Bob Cartwright said evidence showed that when efforts were co-ordinated, it’s possible to ‘level the playing field’ by reducing grey populations and making space for reds to thrive..

Thinning the number of greys, he said, would create more red habitats and help prevent the spread of the squirrel pox virus which does not affect greys but rapidly kills reds.

Action was needed quickly, he added, as there are estimated to be only 140,000 red squirrels left in Britain, of which some 5,000 reside in Cumbria, compared with 2.5 million greys nationwide.

Michael Holgate said there were many ways in which local volunteers could make a difference:

“As well as reporting grey sightings to the charity, there are other practical measures people can take, such as using squirrel-proof bird feeders, and trapping greys in their gardens,” he said.

“Our hundred-plus park staff  have all been enrolled as red champions to help with the task, and together I believe we could soon see these lovely native creatures back with us,” added Michael.

Silverdale and the five other holiday parks belonging to the Holgates group were recently awarded the David Bellamy Gold Conservation Award for their efforts to protect the natural environment.

There is more information about Westmorland Red Squirrels and how people can help its work on the charity’s website at www.westmorlandredsquirrels.org.uk

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