Mid Wales RED SQUIRREL Project
Prosiect Gwiwerod Canolbarth Cymru
Partnership - who are we?
The Mid Wales Red Squirrel Project is a partnership of Carmarthenshire, Powys and Ceredigion County Councils, Foresty Commission Wales, Countryside Council for Wales, Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, Brecknock Wildlife Trust, National Trust, private forest managers and interested individuals. The group was established in 2002.
The Mid Wales Red Squirrel Project, via a CCW Species Challenge Fund (SCF) grant undertook a survey of the mid Wales forests to investigate the presence and genetic make-up of the red squirrel population that is known to exist there. The ultimate aim is to influence the management of these forests to ensure the continued survival of this declining native species in these woodlands. Causes of red squirrel decline have been previously studied and it is thought that there are three main causes: habitat loss, disease and competition. The negative effect of the non-native grey squirrel has been well documented.
The existence of action plans for red squirrel in the county LBAPs provided the basis for our SCF bid and the project built on previous survey work undertaken by CCW.
During two survey periods over 18 months a targeted trapping programme resulted in a number red (and grey) squirrels being trapped. DNA analysis revealed four different mitochondrial DNA haplotypes within the mid Wales population. A haplotype is a genetic marker that can provide useful information on the genetic make-up and ancestry of a population of a particular species. From the mid Wales red squirrel population three of the four haplotypes had been previously recorded in Wales however this was the first time their presence had been recorded within a single locality and two of the haplotypes would appear to be unique to the mid Wales population. The results of genetic analysis have implications for both the conservation of local populations and the conservation of red squirrels in Wales as a whole.
However achieving excellent survey results will not by itself conserve the red squirrels in mid Wales! Further survey work is required but ultimately, it is the management of the forestry that has to be addressed, as it is this factor that is critical to the survival of the red squirrel. We have to influence forest management and work much more closely with forest managers to maintain suitable habitat for the reds and reduce future risk from the greys, which appear to have reached further into areas of the forest than had been anticipated.