Red squirrel survival threatened by conservation strategies

13th January 2022


Strategies to conserve red squirrels through confer plantations could be achieving the opposite of their intention by threatening the species’ survival, according to latest research.

Strategies to conserve red squirrels through confer plantations could be achieving the opposite of their intention by threatening the species’ survival, according to latest research.

The UK’s population of red squirrels has been in decline after their invasive non-native grey cousins were introduced in the 1890s.

Conservation strategies in the UK and Ireland currently focus on planting non-native conifer trees to tackle climate change and the biodiversity crisis, particularly for red squirrels.

But a study led by Queen's University Belfast and St Andrews University, challenges this approach.

Researchers at the two universities with Ulster Wildlife and the help of citizen scientists used camera traps to survey more than 700 sites across Northern Ireland over five years, looking for red squirrels, grey squirrels and pine martens.

The research, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B and funded by the British Ecological Society, shows increased numbers of pine martens aided the presence of red squirrels across the landscape because they suppressed the grey squirrel, regardless of habitat.

But this is reversed in large non-native conifer plantations, where the pine marten reduced the occurrence of red squirrels.

The study says this could be due to the lack of alternate prey, and the lack of refuges for red squirrels in highly simplified landscapes. However the research says it is likely that grey squirrels do not survive well in these habitats, and following pine marten recovery, red squirrels have to contend with their nemesis as elsewhere.

“Restoration of native predators is a critical conservation tool to combat the on-going biodiversity crisis, but this must be with maintenance and protection of natural, structurally complex habitats,” said Joshua P. Twining, Queen’s University Belfast researcher and lead author of the study. “This has global implications given the on-going recovery of predators in certain locations such as mainland Europe.

“It also shows that the current national red squirrel conservation strategies that favour non-native confer plantations are likely to have the opposite impact to what is intended. Timber plantations are often promoted as being beneficial to red squirrel conservation, but our results show that they will have a detrimental effect on the species in the future.”

Image credit | Shutterstock

Subscribe

Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.


Transform articles

Renewables account for almost half of Britain’s power generation

Solar power generation hit a new high in the last quarter as renewables accounted for almost half of Britain’s energy production, according to a report from Montel Analytics.

18th July 2024

Read more

Only a third of the emission reductions required for the UK to achieve net zero by 2030 are covered by credible plans, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has warned today.

18th July 2024

Read more

Tell us what you think about your membership magazine and you can enter the draw to win a £50 voucher for the Ethical Superstore!

15th July 2024

Read more

Almost three-fifths of UK environmental professionals feel there is a green skills gap across the country’s workforce, or that there will be, a new survey has uncovered.

4th July 2024

Read more

Climate hazards such as flooding, droughts and extreme heat are threatening eight in 10 of the world’s cities, new research from CDP has uncovered.

3rd July 2024

Read more

Three in five British adults want more public involvement in the planning system, which could be at odds with Labour’s plans to boost economic growth, IEMA research has found.

3rd July 2024

Read more

Ahead of the UK general election next month, IEMA has analysed the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Green Party manifestos in relation to the sustainability agenda.

19th June 2024

Read more

Nine in 10 UK adults do not fully trust brands to accurately portray their climate commitments or follow the science all the time, a new survey has uncovered.

19th June 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close