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Mid Wales RED SQUIRREL Project

Prosiect Gwiwerod Canolbarth Cymru

September 2014 

Partnership - who are we?

The Mid Wales Red Squirrel Project is a partnership of Carmarthenshire, Powys and Ceredigion County Councils, Natural Resources 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.

Project area

The mid Wales red squirrel project area (MWRSPA) is located at the intersection of the counties of Powys, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire and includes the Tywi Forest and surrounding woodlands, a total of 10,000 ha. of woodland.  The project area includes a core area where red squirrel conservation is the primary focus, and a surrounding buffer area where the control of invading grey squirrels is the priority.  The MWRSPA was agreed with Forestry Commission Wales following a habitat network study undertaken by Forest Research with assistance from MWRSP. In 2009 both the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Minister for the Environment approved the MWRSPA as one of three focal sites for red squirrel action in Wales.

The Project

For over ten years the MWRS Partnership has worked to establish sound baseline of information about the red squirrel population in mid Wales, leading to the development of a robust understanding of the work required to conserve the red squirrel in the MWRSPA.  The grey squirrel has been identified as one of the main threats to the MWRS population’s future survival; a threat which can only be mitigated with sustained local action.

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.

In recent years the MWRSP has tested the best approach to grey squirrel control via two large grants (one from Environment Wales and one from Welsh Government’s 2012 ERD grant) which have allowed us to run significant, but time-limited, pilots. These pilots used contractor labour, supported by volunteer surveys to map squirrel activity, to test the principles and logistics of landscape-scale grey squirrel control in mid Wales.  It also allowed us to start the process of building a strong network of supportive landowners, though only within the more limited area of the pilot.  This work has led us to our current position of understanding of the most sustainable way forward in the MWRSPA. Whilst we have learned a lot through the trapping of grey squirrels by contractors we recognise that this model is not sustainable in the long term, due to the scale and cost.
 
Thanks to Environment Wales Management Grant funding, the MWRSP now has a dedicated Officer whio will focus on building capacity in the local community for grey squirrel control, by supporting the development of volunteer-led groups, that will co-ordinate grey squirrel trapping in their local area.  A Trap Loan Scheme would fill this gap and enable the Volunteer Hubs that are being set up to commence trapping activity.  This approach has been tried and tested by several red squirrel conservation projects in the UK.

In addition forest management  must be adressed and the Partnership tries to work with forest managers to maintain suitable habitat for the reds  and connectivity between suitable habitat and reduce future risk from the greys. In order to safeguard the red squirrel population in the Focal Site it is important that there is sufficient feeding habitat for red squirrels but without encouraging grey squirrels. Patches of good feeding habitat (primarily lodgepole pine, Norway spruce and larch), are needed within a wider matrix of lower quality habitat (e.g .Sitka spruce). Forest connectivity needs to be maintained between these Key Areas throughout the felling cycles to enable movement of red squirrels.

Recommendations

That the focal area of the Mid Wales Red Squirrel project based on Tywi Forest hasred squirrel conservation as one of its major objectives for future forest management. We acknowledge that forest managers (public and private) have other, sometimes, conflicting management objectives but the Project feels strongly that red squirrel conservation can be a primary management objective alongside other management/conservation targets.

Focal areas for reds identified within the forest should be managed primarily for red squirrel conservation with appropriate buffer zones and connectivity between areas.

There should grey squirrel control within forest with a target of eradication of grey in focal areas and constant control effort within buffer zones. Corridors of likely encroachment into focal areas should be targeted. Forest management should seek to ensure that the red populations in Tywi forest are maintained and enhanced through an increase in area of suitable habitat in core red areas (i.e. an adequate range of preferred trees species of sufficient age to optimise cone and seed production) and the maintenance and improvement of connectivity and prevention of fragmentation of habitat containing the remaining populations. It has been shown that even 1% of broadleaves in a conifer woodland is enough to maintain a population of greys. Large-seeded trees such as oak, beech and hazel must be kept to a minimum in these areas� preferred broadleaved species should be birch, willow and alder.

 
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