Northern Ireland

Red squirrels: Volunteers wanted to save species

Red Squirrels face pressure for food Image copyright Christine Cassidy
Image caption Red Squirrels face pressure for food

Volunteers are being sought to survey 120 woods in Northern Ireland for a protected mammal.

They are being asked to help gather information about red squirrels.

Experts claim that, without intervention, the animals could be extinct with 35 years.

Grey squirrels out-perform reds for food and carry a disease that can kill them. They have spread rapidly since their introduction a century ago.

The volunteers will be trained to monitor feeders and set up camera traps to record sightings as part of a conservation programme.

And they will be asked to report greys in areas which are currently strongholds for reds.

Workshops are being organised by Ulster Wildlife in March to train the volunteers.

The data gathered will contribute to the work of Red Squirrels United, a UK-wide network set up to protect the endangered species.

Image copyright Craig Shuttleworth
Image caption Map showing spread of grey squirrels

Conor McKinney from Ulster Wildlife is leading the project in Northern Ireland.

He said numbers of red squirrels had "declined dramatically" since greys were introduced to Ireland in 1911.

"To ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy these special animals, we need volunteers to help us monitor squirrels in their local area, so we can target our conservation efforts," he said.

Reds are currently found in the Mournes, south and west Tyrone, parts of County Londonderry, the Glens of Antrim and Fermanagh.

Experts believe there are only about 140,000 red squirrels left in the UK.

The project is being supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.