Protect our Red squirrels

Two years ago I was appointed as the Red Squirrel Species Champion in the Assembly.

The Wales Environment Link (WEL) Species Champions initiative asks Assembly Members to lend political support to the protection of Wales’ special and threatened wildlife by becoming ‘Species Champions’.

Red Squirrels are instantly recognisable by their red fur, ear tufts and long, fluffy tails. They were once the only squirrel species in Europe, but this changed when grey squirrels were introduced from America to the UK in the late 1800s and although reds are still plentiful across Europe and northern Asia, researchers say the species remains under threat because of disease and competition for food from larger grey squirrels.

This is certainly the case  here in Wales where Red squirrels were once common. Unfortunately there are now only three main populations remaining, one being in my constituency in the Clocaenog Forest, the other two being Anglesey and Mid Wales.  

Clocaenog Forest in Ruthin had 400 red squirrels in 1998, but there are now currently fewer than 50. I was therefore extremely pleased to hear that action is being taken to address this decline, with seven new animals having been released into the forest as part of a breeding programme.

The captive-bred squirrels were initially housed in two enclosures in the 15,000 acre forest to try and help them get used to their surroundings.

After four weeks, the enclosures were opened and the squirrels were given access to the forest, where a number of nest boxes and feeders have been placed. The squirrels will be monitored closely to track their progress, and  it is hoped that more will released in the future.

Action to boost numbers is also being taken on Anglesey, where hedges are to be planted across the island to form a "red squirrel corridor" in a bid to boost the population of approximately 800 Red Squirrels.

The newly-planted hedges and trees on Anglesey will connect to a planned squirrel bridge crossing the A4080 and a further 400m of hedge being restored by volunteers.

Long Forest is also developing an app to survey hedgerows and create a record to show which areas needs improvement.

As Natural Resources Wales (NRW) conservation manager Rhys Jenkins has said: "Red squirrels are an important part of our environment, heritage and culture. We have a duty to protect them for future generations."

I am very honoured to be Species Champion for the Red Squirrel, one of our most loved native animals, and I will continue doing all I can to protect this threatened species.