Northern Ireland news

Red squirrel appeal: Volunteers needed to protect endangered animals

Map showing the spread of grey squirrels across the north. Picture from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency

VOLUNTEERS are urgently needed to help save the north's last remaining red squirrels, a leading conservation charity has said.

Ulster Wildlife has launched a recruitment drive for people to gather information about the north's squirrel population, which now only exists in pockets including the Glens of Antrim and the Mourne Mountains.

Volunteers will be trained to report any non-native grey squirrels who move into red squirrels' territory. The larger greys, native to North America, are the main reason for the native reds' decline.

Any information gathered will help the work of Red Squirrels United, a UK-wide network set up to protect the reds, led by wildlife trusts in nine areas in Northern Ireland, England and Wales.

Conor McKinney from Ulster Wildlife, who is leading the Red Squirrels United Project in the north, said the red squirrel population has declined dramatically since greys were introduced to Ireland in 1911.

"To ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy these special animals we need volunteers to help us monitor squirrels in their local area so we can target our conservation efforts," he said.

"We would also encourage the public to report squirrel sightings to help with wider conservation efforts. Together, we can give our reds a fighting chance of survival."

Workshops are being held in Belfast, Enniskillen, Derry, Larne and Kilkeel throughout March. Anyone interested in taking part in the surveys can visit www.ulsterwildlife.org for further details.

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