Red alert on hold as squirrels fight back

FIGHTING BACK: Red squirrel numbers are recovering in Lancashire after years of decline
FIGHTING BACK: Red squirrel numbers are recovering in Lancashire after years of decline
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Their tufted ears and bushy tail give them the X-Factor on nature’s stage.

Now red squirrels - the scarlet pimpernels of British woodlands - are increasing their public appearances in Lancashire after years of decline.

Conservationists say the loveable reds, which recently looked doomed to extinction in the UK within 20 years, are back by popular demand - and have now been spotted in Preston over the past 12 months.

This week fans have been celebrating the breed’s fightback from a virus which all-but wiped them out in the North West.

Red Squirrel Week has been highlighting the animal’s recovery from the deadly squirrel pox which wiped out around 80 per cent of the region’s population.

“In 2008 the outlook was very bleak,” said Rachel Miller, the Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s red squirrel project officer. “The virus is carried by grey squirrels, which are immune to it, but it is fatal to red squirrels.

“Thanks to the perseverance and dedication of our volunteers and project officers, the population recovered quickly and has now increased to just over 80 per cent of the pre-pox numbers.”

The red squirrel population is rising in the North West after 140 years of decline. Its stronghold has been the Sefton Coast. But now there have been sightings further inland, with the species reaching Preston, Rufford, Skelmersdale and Wigan in the past year.

“Protecting the red squirrel populationn requires constant effort,” added Rachel.

“We want to create suitable grey-free habitat for reds to re-colonise. This project, with the help of volunteers and vigilant members of the public, 
could mean reds extending their territory throughout the North West.”