This morning I attended a Denbighshire Tourism Ambassador event in Clocaenog Forest- what a great start to the week. The forest was in its full autumnal glory, and we had a window of mild dry weather perfect for the morning’s activity which was to learn about the work of Red Squirrels Trust Wales in Denbighshire. This was exceptional timing by the tourism team as this just happens to by Red Squirrel Awareness week!
First of all Becky Clews-Roberts, the Red Squirrel Ranger gave us the lowdown on the current situation in the area. Clocaenog along with Anglesey and some areas in Mid Wales has become a focal point and part of a Welsh Government Conservation Plan to encourage the growth of the native red squirrel population.
Clocaenog with its open moorland to one side has a perfect buffer from the ever growing grey squirrel population along with controlling program of Natural Resources Wales.
The grey squirrel is a third bigger than the native red squirrel and because of this have a higher success rate of finding food. The grey squirrel also carries a virus which they themselves are immune to but is lethal to their red counterparts. There are 5 million grey squirrels in the UK compared to 140,000 red squirrels with a huge 120,000 of these living solely in Scotland. Interestingly enough Scotland also has a large population of pine martens which are the top carnivores in the UK- so there may be some correlation between this fact and the curbing of the take over by grey squirrels in Scotland.
Did you know if you catch a grey squirrel in the UK it is illegal for you to release it back into the wild and you should kill it? No, neither did I.
Part of Becky’s work is to get this and other squirrel facts out there, she visits schools and clubs to give talks but she also hosts courses for volunteers who would like to get more involved. In order to get some more data about red squirrel activity, Becky and her volunteers have placed 35 trail cameras in the known sighted areas. The cameras are triggered by a motion sensor and Becky showed us some really good images taken in Clocaenog. The volunteers learn how to download the pictures from the cameras and monitor them every six weeks, they are also encouraged to become involved in the control of the grey squirrels. Becky hopes after the three-year project comes to an end there will be a legacy of volunteers to sustain the work already started.
We walked around the forest and viewed some of the cameras and saw how easy it was to download images, the biggest issue was remembering where they all were, as one tree pretty much looks like another! Each camera had a cache of hazelnuts directly opposite in an attempt to lure a visit from a curious red squirrel. We were treated to some colourful toadstools and unusual orange fungi which stood out on the mossy forest floor. The forest has a calm and peaceful ambiance and tells nothing of the battle between good and bad, the indigenous and the interlopers!
More information about this work or volunteering ( there is a course with space this Saturday!) can be found on the Red Squirrel Trust Wales or if you interested in becoming an ambassador or attending the next ambassador event visit this page.