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Red squirrel, grey squirrel ~ by Lewis

Red squirrel, grey squirrel

Britain has two types of squirrel, but only one of them – the red squirrel – is actually native to the country. The grey squirrel was introduced into the UK about 130 years ago. There are now some 2.5 million grey squirrels in the UK, compared to 160,000 native red squirrels.

The majority of the red squirrels are now found in Scotland, Wales and North East England, with smaller populations in places like the Isle of Wight and Norfolk (Thetford Chase).  The distribution of squirrels in Ireland may be seen here .  The number of red squirrels has fallen dramatically as it has lost out in competition with the grey squirrel, in terms of young (kittens) produced; certainly this is true in deciduous broadleaved woodland and forest. This may be associated with the red squirrel not being able to digest acorns (often plentiful in such habitats).

There is also a marked difference in foraging behaviour between the two squirrels; the grey squirrels spend much more time on the woodland floor than the red squirrels (and they tend to raid the red squirrels stores!). It has been estimated that only one red squirrel in six lives as long as a year.

One place in the UK where the red squirrel survives in native broadleaved woodland is on the Isle of Wight; here the grey squirrel is kept at bay.

Red squirrels are at home amongst Hazel, Beech, Scots and Corsican Pine, Sweet Chestnut and Wild Cherry, where their main food is the nuts and seeds, although they will also eat flowers and shoots from trees; and even forage for mushrooms and fungi. They are most likely to experience food shortages in early summer, when the current year’s fruits and seeds are forming.

The parapox virus and the loss of woodland and forest may also have contributed to the decline of red squirrels over the last few decades. Fortunately, the red squirrel is included in the National Biodiversity Action Plan and there are a number of initiativesto help and protect local populations.

Red Squirrel week this year is 30th September to the 8th October. If you can help with sightings of red squirrel, then visit the Wildlife Trusts.

Posted in: Flora & Fauna, Pests & Diseases ~ On: 26 September, 2006

57 comments so far

2 July, 2012

Ther are a number of myths about the red squirrel being posted in the comments.

Myth – red squirrels were already in decline when the grey arrived
Fact – red squirrel numbers were increasing when the grey arrived. They declined long before the grey’s introduction but new woodland planting increased numbers and by 1900 there was a thriving population. Human persecution started after 1900.

Myth – red squirrels prefer conifer woodland
Fact – red squirrels do not prefer conifers over broadleaved. They are confined to conifers by the grey squirrel, but habitat preference plays no part.

Myth – human persecution wiped out the red
Fact – human persecution certainly didn’t help but it was not the main cause. The highland squirrel club killed 80,000, but while this is a big number, this was spread out over a period of 30 years, amounting to a relatively low number of 2666 per year, which probably wasn’t enough to wipe them out.

The decline of the red squirrel was caused mostly by the grey squirrel. Today, the grey squirrel is the only serious threat which remains. Blaming the current situation on habitat loss and persecution is little more than a convenient excuse to argue against a cull of greys. Habitat destruction is irrelevant today as woodland has more than doubled since 1900 and is still increasing. Human persecution stopped long ago as well. The grey squirrel is indisputably the main threat.

2 April, 2012

I heard that grey squirrels and Red squirrels can not reproduce together.
Gotta say, that for several years now, a Western gray squirrel and some (Red squirrel) here in my Tualatin Oregon, USA neighborhood seem to have successfully created an ongoing racial get together. No one told them they couldn’t hook up and create a new type of squirrel.
Quite the variety of off spring expressions. They seem to be doing fine, barring the occasional argument with tires. So far, about a half a dozen of em so far as I can tell. Wonder why the ones in the UK aren’t doing this? Failure to communicate due to accent differences? :)

Red squirrel, grey squirrel, black squirrel … | The Woodlands.co.uk Blog
5 February, 2012

[…] had to worry about the impact of the imported grey squirrel on our native red squirrel (see blog http://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/conservation/red-squirrel-grey-squirrel/  ).  However, it now seems there is another player on the scene: the black squirrel.   Whereas […]

25 November, 2011

Many small mammals undergo ‘cyclical’ fluctuations in numbers – voles etc

25 November, 2011

Thank you that really helped

25 November, 2011

The numbers seem to have fluctuated – some information here

25 November, 2011

before the grey squirrels were introduced to the UK how many Red Squirrels were there?
I need this for my coursework and the internet isn’t very useful tells me how many are around today but not how many Red Squirrels there were before


22 November, 2011

see http://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/red-squirrels-in-scotland/
quote “Grey squirrels were introduced into parks in the UK in the 19th century and are able to make effective use of a variety of foodstuffs, such as acorns, that are indigestible to red squirrels.
Their larger size and higher reproductive rate also help greys outcompete reds for food and habitat, but most ominously, greys carry the Squirrel Poxvirus. This has no effect on the carrier grey squirrel, but is rapidly and painfully fatal to any red squirrel that contracts it from the grey population. Fortunately, not all greys carry the virus and so far, those tested in North East Scotland have been virus free, but the danger is still there.”

see also the competitive exclusion principle

22 November, 2011

I am doing science homework and 1 questions I cannot find are how did the Gray squirrel spread over time?


6 October, 2011

Hi hope you dont mind me asking, I have just taken up falconry and got my first harris hawk, and I am looking for woodland to fly him,in east sussex, I am in the lewis area.
many thanks

How did the grey squirrel arrive in the UK? | The Woodlands.co.uk Blog
4 October, 2011

[…] grey squirrel arrive in the UK? ~ by catherine Here is an answer to all those questions on the Red squirrel, grey squirrel blog asking about the introduction of grey […]

Red squirrel, grey squirrel, black squirrel … | The Woodlands.co.uk Blog
4 October, 2011

[…] had to worry about the impact of the imported grey squirrel on our native red squirrel (see blog http://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/conservation/red-squirrel-grey-squirrel/  ).  However, it now seems there is another player on the scene: the black squirrel.   Whereas […]

3 September, 2011

It’s the grey squirrels turn to be the focus of hunting at the moment. Remember that the red squirrels was just as disliked and hunted practically to extinction, as were Otters. In my childhood I remember the local Otter hunt, whose ambition was to wipe out all the local otters. They succeeded too. Any animal that could have been hunted in Britain, has been. We wiped out wolves and bears. I think this has more to do with mankinds desire to hunt and kill, rather than any real reason to do so.

15 June, 2011

Grey squirrels taste much better than the red ones too – the reds have hardly any meat, and are quite lean – Greys have a bit more fat on them – great in a stew.

10 June, 2011

can u pleae add more infomation aboout the grey squirrel??

stranger to u all!! :?
2 March, 2011

what about grey squirrels??
I sort of need more about them for my homework!! :(

6 September, 2010

thnx. this really helped with my homework =)

Dick Glasgow
15 August, 2010

I have enjoyed reading your Squirrel articles, so I have posted a link to your site on the new ‘Red Squirrel Forum’.

TOP 5: Squirrels. « TOP FIVE
11 May, 2010

[…] TOP 5: Squirrels. 12/05/2010 tags: cute, photography, squirrels, wildlife by thefty Red squirrels are native to Britain. Grey squirrels are not. However, the reds are getting their butts kicked by the shifty little greys. Read this. […]

27 April, 2010

“How do Red /Grey squirrels adapt to their environment?”

Same way as any other creature, they wake up, wander about, find stuff to eat, have a rest, find more stuff to eat and then find a safe place to sleep. Repeat.

Grey squirrels have learned to live in towns, they aren’t as shy as red squirrels (when I was about 17, sitting on the floor in a room with an open door to the outside world, quietly reading, a grey squirrel came in and ran up my arm to my shoulder – a red squirrel would never do that) you can see them in parks and on roadside verges a few feet away from passers-by. Because they are bolder than red squirrels, the greys have found new niches in which to survive, the reds have retreated, sticking to things they know.

lynda lowe
25 April, 2010

How do Red /Grey squirrels adapt to their environment?

Seasons: Autumn Display at Oaters Wood | The Woodlands.co.uk Blog
31 December, 2009

[…] As you walk down the track further into the woods you get a sense of peace and tranquillity. A grey squirrel made its’ appearance  – but perhaps suffered from a mild case of stage fright and decided to high tail it out of there. Maybe another day … In the meantime, please read the blog by Mike posted on 26 September 2006 about some interesting facts on the red and grey squirrel. http://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/conservation/red-squirrel-grey-squirrel/ […]

30 October, 2009

Grey squirrel (sciurus carolinensis) are native to the eastern coast of North America (that is the east side of the USA and Canada, they are known as eastern grey squirrels over there because there is also a western grey squirrel which isn’t the same species (google is your friend if you are really interested in all this). Someone, I don’t know who, must have brought them in cages on a ship from either the US or Canada (since they were introduced before the invention of the aeroplane).

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