Red squirrel habitat clear up must be done with care after Storm Arwen damage, leading conservation charity said
The Red Squirrel Survival Trust (RSST) says it is now keen to “protect and salvage” what is left of the rare mammal’s habitat after forests suffered “significant damage” from the storm which swept the country last week.
Northumberland, County Durham, Cumbria, the Scottish Borders and Lancashire are the worst affected and the trust said the impact of the devastation has resulted in many areas, which were once colonies for red squirrels, being destroyed.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has also confirmed the red squirrel reserve at Snaizeholme in Wensleydale suffered severe damage during the storm with a large number of trees believed to have been felled.
The red squirrels’ main diet is pine cones and they only thrive in the long term in areas with significant coniferous forest cover, which means the destruction of their natural habitat is a particular concern.
The damage done at Snaizeholme is a blow for the 10-year red squirrel conservation project and comes only weeks after a report revealed the fragile species had maintained and possibly extended its range in the Dales.
The RSST, the national charity established to ensure the conservation and protection of the red squirrel in the UK and which works alongside local volunteer groups, said it was “concerned” that the clear-up of these woodlands could result in habitats being damaged further.
David Bliss, trustee of the RSST and CEO of Cumbria’s Lowther Trust, said: “Across the North of England and Scotland large areas of habitat have been lost as a result of Storm Arwen.
“However, red squirrel colonies are amazingly resilient and are very good at readjusting so the priority for those responsible for clearing up is to do this appropriately.”
Mr Bliss warned the damaged areas needed to be managed in order to avoid any further damage to red squirrel colonies.
“The temptation to clear up a woodland and make it tidy is the wrong to do, for all wildlife not just red squirrels,” he said.
“In the short term, take the best firewood and leave some for nature to recreate their habitats. This is especially important at this time of year as we head into winter.
“We should also refrain from cutting hedges so that there is habitat left for wildlife such as squirrels.”
Longer term, Mr Bliss said expanding natural habitats was key to help the growth and survival of the red squirrel population. Ideally, he said, the aim should be to create an extra 10 per cent of natural habitat.