THE battle to survive is getting tougher for Northern Ireland's red squirrel population, and people throughout the province are now being urged to monitor sightings.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has just released figures which show that latest estimates indicate that there could be as few as 100 red squirrels left across the entire expanse of Co Derry.
Volunteers from eight groups throughout Northern Ireland are now hoping that walkers, farmowners and wildlife lovers will help record sightings of red squirrel in their local forestry areas – and more importantly, pinpoint where they are mixing with grey squirrels.
The grey invaders carry a disease called squirrel pox which, while seemingly possessing little or no threat to them, can prove fatal to the red squirrel.
Squirrels with the pox have swelling and discharge from lesions around the eyes, mouth and feet, and become increasingly lethargic as the disease progresses, normally dying within 15 days.
While lending his support for the plight of the red squirrel against the hardier grey squirrel, Mr Durkan said there are difficulties in documenting squirrel numbers and appealed to the public to both help document and protect the red squirrel population.
The Department of the Environment is asking walkers, landowners and wildlife lovers to help document sightings.
Pet owners have also been urged to fit cats with bells and keep dogs on the lead within red squirrel areas to help protect animal numbers.
Despite the name, red squirrels are not always red.
They vary in colour and can be brown, greyish or nearly black and can get white hairs in their coats and tails.
They are smaller than grey squirrel, have a more pointed face and distinctive ear tufts.