Red Squirrels United was the first UK wide network working together to secure the future of our red squirrels. Organisations, volunteers and other conservationists had been involved in local conservation work and projects to protect red squirrels for many years. The Red Squirrels United partnership joined up some of these initiatives, together with other academics, practitioners and volunteers to deliver a unique programme of coordinated red squirrel conservation and knowledge sharing across the country.
Why do red squirrels matter? The red squirrel is the UK’s only native squirrel species and was once widespread across our islands. Their numbers have declined drastically over the last century and now there are approximately 140,000 left in the wild. Grey squirrels were brought to the UK in the 1800s by the Victorians and the first record of them escaping and establishing a wild population was in 1876. Since then they have spread across much of the UK, arriving in Ireland in 1911. Many scientific studies show that the introduction of the grey squirrel from North America has been the major factor in the red squirrel’s decline over the past century. This is due to competition for food and shelter and spread of the squirrelpox virus which grey squirrels can transmit to red squirrels. This is fatal to red squirrels who generally die within 1-2 weeks of contracting the virus from dehydration and starvation. Without conservation management, red squirrels could become extinct from the UK mainland within a generation unless we work together to secure their future.
Red Squirrels United brought together organisations and community groups from across the UK to help protect red squirrels through raising public awareness, increasing community engagement, knowledge sharing and best practice.
Red Squirrels United aimed to:
1 Provide the first ever national programme of red squirrel conservation learning and celebration
2 Maximise sustainability of the programme by increasing the impact of red squirrel conservation
3 Prevent the introduction of grey squirrels
4 Avoid biodiversity loss by involving the local community and building awareness
5 Explore the impacts of the red squirrel on local communities and economy