Information about Red Squirrels

Lets talk about the Red Squirrel for a moment…

This article was contributed by Chris Van Wyk.

I was left musing on how this is probably the single easiest topic on which the general public could be mislead through misrepresentation of facts and general scaremongering into voting no were a referendum to happen.

The first fact that Islanders are often surprised to learn is that the Island is not the only stronghold of Red Squirrels in the UK. Not only do they also thrive on Brownsea Island(1), but also Angelsea (2) which has had a fixed link since 1826 (3), also areas of Wales, the Lake District, Scotland, Merseyside (4) and Thetford Forest in Norfolk, all of which having had fixed links for considerably longer.

The next area of interest is the plausibility of a scenario in which a Grey Squirrel would utilise a fixed link to reach the Isle of Wight. Having looked at some excellent studies of the behaviour of both species (5), I have learned that a Grey Squirrel will have a maximum home range of 6.1 Hectares, which is an area 140 Meters across. This is somewhat less that the 2010m shortest distance to the mainland that a fixed link would need to span. Colonisation by greys on the mainland is driven by population pressure causing greys to move into neighbouring areas seeking food, primarily nuts, acorns, berries and fungi (6). A feature rarely remarked on about both bridges and tunnels is their lack of nuts, acorns, berries or fungi (Citation Needed). Factoring in to the lack of behavioural stimuli that would lead a grey squirrel to venture the full length of a fixed link the inhibiting factor of traffic noise and human activity it can be safely concluded that a grey squirrel using a fixed link to come to the island is highly unlikely.

For grey squirrels to colonise the island, this unlikely scenario would need to happen twice, and despite it being the 21st century for humans, squirrels still require a male and a female in order to procreate, rendering a successful colonisation even less likely by a significant factor.

It is worth noting, that there is already a terrible threat to the security of red squirrels on the island: the ferries. In 2002 the IWCP ran a piece reporting that greys had been sighted in the West Wight, referencing the old story of a Grey having been put back on a ferry having been discovered in Yarmouth (7). It is also worth noting in this article the measures to monitor and action plan to deal with any grey squirrels that make it across on a ferry.

There are the more serious threats to the red squirrel that should be much higher in our minds as islanders: Habitat loss, road kill and predation are already here on the Island and threaten many more species to boot.

While I don’t like to reference my own personal life and habits when debating a fixed link, preferring to rely solely on the strength of my arguments, I am passionate in my support of our local and national ecology and biodiversity, and my own professional life as a beekeeper hangs precariously on the well being of our environment. As such, I find it utterly repugnant that any anti fixed linker might ever subvert such an important cause to further their own ends. In this cause, as in all others, we must always hold on to the light of truth.

A particularly handsome islander enjoying a close encounter with one of our beloved squirrels. (Before any hysterics: schedule 5 and 6 of the Wildlife and Country Act 1981 does not preclude hand feeding red squirrels)
A particularly handsome islander enjoying a close encounter with one of our beloved squirrels. (Before any hysterics: schedule 5 and 6 of the Wildlife and Country Act 1981 does not preclude hand feeding red squirrels)

Sources

(1) http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/brownsea-island/wildlife/view-page/item484959/(2) http://www.redsquirrels.info/
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menai_Suspension_Bridge
(4) http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/formby/
(5) http://www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/fcin076.pdf/$file/fcin076.pdf
(6) http://www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org/animal-facts/grey-squirrel
(7) http://www.iwcp.co.uk/news/grey-squirrels-threat-to-native-reds-959.aspx

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