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Research team calls on public to help save red squirrel

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Red squirrels only survive in a handful of locations in the UK

Red squirrels only survive in a handful of locations in the UK

Red squirrels only survive in a handful of locations in the UK

It's time to step up - your red squirrels need you.

That's according to wildlife researchers at Quercus in Queen's University Belfast, who are trying to find out if pine martens could help native red squirrels make a comeback.

Lily Price of Quercus says native squirrels have now vanished from Belvoir Forest Park and the Lagan Valley due to competition from invasive greys and numbers have plummeted in Tollymore Forest Park because of a squirrel pox outbreak.

Grey squirrels were originally introduced from America. They are now officially classed as pests in the UK and have long been blamed for the decline of the red squirrels.

Members of the public could now play a key role in finding out how to bring about a possible red squirrel renaissance.

Recent studies revealed that grey squirrels are declining in the Irish Midlands and this could be linked to a comeback among pine martens.

Lily says: "Quercus is conducting a study looking into why an increase in pine martens would result in a decline in grey squirrel populations as they are not a major part of their diet. Could it be a 'climate of fear' created by the pine marten that is causing the grey squirrels to decline?"

It is thought that it could be that non-native greys simply wouldn't recognise a native predator and know to avoid it.

"So the researchers are setting up squirrel feeders with cameras to record whether reds and greys visit feeders with and without the scent of a pine marten.

"To do this we need the public's help. We are looking for people in the greater Belfast area that regularly have grey squirrels visiting their gardens to participate in the study," Lily said.

"We need people that will allow us to put a feeder and a camera in their garden to record squirrel behaviour.

"By contributing to this study people will help us understand whether or not the pine marten has a role to play in the conservation of the red squirrel in Ireland and Britain."

If you think you could help, contact Lily via lprice02@qub.ac.uk. The team are also aiming to raise £2,198 to fund the investigation with a Kickstarter campaign.

To find out more, visit the kickstarter.com page

Belfast Telegraph