Winter 2003

Red Squirrels

The delicate position that the red squirrel holds on the Sefton Coast has been highlighted by a second outbreak of disease this year. In February 2003 three cases of parapox virus were confirmed at Ince Blundell and Southport. A further three cases have been confirmed this autumn, two from Blundellsands and one from Little Crosby Estate, a further four cases from Southport, Blundellsands and Aughton are awaiting confirmation but outward signs are symptomatic of the virus.

Red squirrel with parapox This disease brings an additional problem for the red squirrel that has already disappeared from much of Britain during the last hundred years as a result of the introduction of grey squirrels. Once grey squirrels are established in an area red squirrels disappear rapidly. There is every reason to believe that the spread of disease from grey to red squirrels is a contributory factor in this. Grey squirrels appear to be largely immune to the parapox virus, but it is lethal to reds.

When red squirrels become infected with the disease, they become lethargic and develop scabs and lesions around their mouth and eyes. Death for the animal follows within a matter of days and, as yet, there is no treatment or vaccination for the virus. We can only ensure the reds' survival by trapping grey squirrels and regularly cleaning garden feeding tables that red squirrels use.

Liverpool University are helping Red Alert North West research the problem on Merseyside by carrying out post mortems on any dead red squirrels and by storing blood samples from grey squirrels to carry out future research into the transfer of disease amongst the two species.

260 sightings of grey squirrels have been reported in Sefton so far this year Red Alert North West would like to thank all members of the public who have reported squirrel sightings, please continue reporting as this not only helps assess the situation on the movement and health of both red and grey squirrels in this area but allows us to concentrate trapping effort into areas where it is possible.

As you can imagine reports in this volume create a large amount of work, if you have any time available to help Red Alert North West carry out necessary work to safeguard red squirrels on Merseyside then please get in touch. If you have a squirrel trap from any of the agencies working in this area that you are no longer using, please return it by getting in touch on the number below.

Please ring Fiona Robertson at The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside on 0151 920 3769 to report sightings of grey squirrels or sick red squirrels, to return a squirrel trap or for more information on how you can get involved.