Major funding boost for red-squirrel conservation

A red squirrel at Hauxley Nature Reserve. Picture by Tim Mason
A red squirrel at Hauxley Nature Reserve. Picture by Tim Mason

A new project to secure the future of the red squirrel is set to receive £1.2million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The much-loved, endangered native red squirrel and its habitat will be protected and promoted through Red Squirrels United, a new four-year programme bringing together eight partners from across the UK.

Red Squirrels United will operate directly in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and work with the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels partnership on cross-border conservation action and skills-sharing to achieve the development of a truly UK-scale red squirrel conservation initiative for the first time.

The project will deliver key national conservation objectives with the aim of protecting red squirrels through communication, education and conservation activities. It is supported by Government nature conservation agencies and the 32 organisations within the UK squirrel accord group.

Community-based rapid response teams will be created involving 1,250 volunteers who will be trained to conserve key red squirrel populations threatened by their interaction with non-native grey squirrels. These volunteers will be supported by partner organisation staff, building the large networks of red squirrel champions essential for conservation success.

Partners will maintain grey squirrel-free habitat where it already exists, for example, in Kielder Forest in Northumberland; extend current red squirrel protection zones and implement a new whole country approach in Northern Ireland. All conservation work will be rigorously monitored contributing to robust scientific research and evaluation to be undertaken by academic partners.

Nick Mason, Red Squirrels Northern England project manager, is delighted with the funding. He said: “This money will help us continue our work to protect red squirrels in Kielder Forest and its neighboring forests; it will also enable us to share ideas with our project partners and learn from what they are doing in their own geographical areas.

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: “We’re delighted that HLF is supporting this fantastic project. Our beautiful native red squirrels deserve our protection in every part of the UK where they can still thrive.

“This investment will allow us to unite hundreds of people championing this charismatic creature into one UK force for good. It will build on decades of hard work and passionate commitment. Thank you to players of the National Lottery for allowing this.”

Tom Tew, trustee at the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “The ongoing plight of the red squirrel is perhaps one of the most alarming and well-known conservation issues that this country has seen. It’s great to see such strong co-operation between conservation organisations which now, thanks to National Lottery players, have a great opportunity to capitalise on all the local work and build a co-ordinated, national response to the threats faced by this endangered species.”

The Red Squirrels United programme is led by The Wildlife Trusts in partnership with Newcastle University, Forest Research, Lancashire Wildlife Trust, Red Squirrels Trust Wales, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Ulster Wildlife and The Wildlife Trusts of South & West Wales.

HLF has endorsed outline proposals and awarded £75,400 up front to help develop the project. The full grant amount will be considered at a later date, following a second-round application.