Red relief?

by Webmaster, 30th March 2018

Research suggests the presence of pine martens is working wonders for red squirrels

For our native red squirrel, this handsome fellow is a predator, but one that might just help save the species in the UK.

As previously reported on walesandborders.com, this is because the presence of pine martens seem to affect populations of the introduced grey squirrel far more than their auburn cousins. Now an in-depth forensic study at the University of Aberdeen has shown that the number of greys has indeed declined in areas where there are high densities of pine martens. The research supports and strengthens that which we first revealed in the June 2016 issue of Welsh Border Life.

In Wales, the pine marten had become almost extinct, but the Herefordshire-based Vincent Wildlife Trust released several dozen of the animals translocated from Scotland to Cwm Rheidol in Mid Wales in 2016.

“We’re hopeful we’ll see a similar effect in Wales, in time,” says the trust’s Steve Carter. “We have a researcher from the University of Exeter who’s looking at the behaviour of the grey squirrel in areas where there are pine martens compared to areas where there aren’t.”

No-one knows for certain why grey squirrel numbers are so badly affected compared to the reds, but Steve has theories. “Grey squirrels haven’t evolved with pine martens as a predator,” he suggests. “They don’t have this evolutionary history or the appropriate anti-predator responses. They might also be easier prey because they’re heavier than the more nimble red and spend more time on the ground.”

Until now the news has generally been bad for the red squirrel, as the grey out-competes it for food and spreads disease. And despite the recent positive news, Steve cautions against relocating pine martens for the sake of red squirrels, as it may not have the desired effect, or worse, could lead to unexpected consequences without careful planning.

• For more details about the Vincent Wildlife Trust’s work with pine martens visit: www.pine-marten-recovery-project.org.uk 


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