Belfast Telegraph

Red squirrel reintroduced to woodland along north Antrim coast

Resurgence: Native red squirrel
Resurgence: Native red squirrel

By Christopher Leebody

A Co Antrim beauty spot is set to see a resurgence of the rare native red squirrel thanks to a local environmental group.

Ballygally Biodiversity Group was formed in 2015 with the goal of reintroducing red squirrels into Carnfunnock Country Park and Chaine's wood along the north Antrim coast.

The protected red squirrel population has seen a steady decrease throughout Ireland over the last 50 years, with the non-native grey a more common sight.

After working with Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Carnfunnock Country Park and Cairndhu Golf Club, the group will begin the reintroduction of the species later this month.

Chairman Neil McMullan (47) explained that at least three surplus red squirrels from Belfast Zoo's breeding programme will be released. Squirrels from Glenarm will also be added to ensure diversity and sustainability.

He said: "The gene pool will be spread so it is not all from the one source. It is important, if we put squirrels in from just one source, the gene pool will be a problem.

"We are working on creating a natural corridor for the species in the area. The nearest red squirrels thriving are in Glenarm, in the forest and estate.

"You can't keep parachuting squirrels in. You have to create a natural habitat for the squirrels."

Neil and the group of around 20 core members can remember a time when the species thrived and provided a much valued sight during walks round the park.

He said: "It was the local residents who could remember as children being able to walk through Carnfunnock and see red squirrels.

"As they got older and grandchildren came along, they wanted them to have the same enjoyment. The red squirrel is very threatened by the impact that the grey has made, so we have been working with other groups along the coast to make sure the reds are back in their natural habitat."

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