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Saturday, 23 May 2015

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Tynedale: Red letter day for squirrel campaigners

VOLUNTEERS, conservationists and landowners have joined forces in a bid to save Tynedale’s red squirrels.

Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE) has been working with Stocksfield-based estate management company Land Factor to protect red squirrels in woodland around Hexham.

With the support of local landowners, RSNE has secured £300,000 for the next five years, through the Forestry Commission’s English Woodland Grant Scheme, for red squirrel conservation in the Hexham area.

This funding boost will go towards employing a full-time red squirrel ranger and seasonal contractors, to work across 3,000 hectares of woodland around Hexham, Corbridge and Slaley.

Just over 40 per cent of the funding will go towards employing full-time RSNE ranger Paul Greener over the next four to five years.

Local man Paul started working with RSNE in March, and the conservation team hopes to employ more local people, including two local contractors, for nine months of the year, to help monitor red squirrel numbers and control the grey squirrel population.

“The area around Hexham is one of the largest woodland landscapes in Northern England,” explained RSNE project manager Nick Mason. “We have to monitor 26 woodlands; that’s 3,500 hectres.

“Over the next five years the money will be spent on controlling the grey squirrel, culling grey squirrels, and helping the red squirrel within a five mile radius of Hexham.

“Rather than just killing grey squirrels, we want to make sure one less grey squirrel contributes to a red coming back.

“This will be the kind of approach we haven’t had before; we are going to up the intensity and effort. We’ve got around 12 of Land Factor’s biggest landowning clients on a united plan of conservation around their woodlands to be undertaken by us.”

Land Factor director Tom Warde-Aldam said: “We believe that this new project has brought about a real step-change in the control of grey squirrels.

“It is most exciting that we are now sighting red squirrels in various locations for the first time in several years.

“It is important that we sustain these efforts to build up the population for years to come.”

RSNE is already seeing the benefits of similar conservation work in Slaley Forest, which covers around 14sq km.

Leader of the volunteer Slaley Red Squirrel Group, Margaret Bates, has been delighted by the results so far – there was a 50 per cent increase in red squirrel sightings during 2013, compared to the previous two years.

She believes this is down to a combination of kinder weather, landowner support and the relationship between RSNE and its volunteers.