Red Squirrel

Durham Priority Species
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Red Squirrel Action Plan

Priority Species: Red Squirrel

1. Maintain the current population and range of red squirrels within the DBAP area
2. Safeguard important sites for red squirrels
3. Raise awareness of conservation issues concerning the red squirrel
4. When necessary, control the grey squirrel population

Vision Statement: To maintain and monitor existing populations with a view to possible range expansion.

Target Type Unit Value
1. To maintain current range of red squirrel in the Durham BAP area. maintain occupied km squares 40

Of the 276 species of squirrel worldwide, Sciurus vulgaris is the only species native to Britain. Red Squirrel shares most of the characteristics of other rodents, including rapid reproduction rates (2 litters/year, 2-4 kits per litter). At the turn of the 19th century, they were regarded as pests and squirrel clubs in the home counties alone despatched 82,000 squirrels in 30 years. The diet is eclectic.

Preferred habitat is woodland with population densities of 1.1ha (broad-leaf) and 1.2/ha (coniferous), though conifer has the advantage of providing seed all year round.

Introduced congeners, American grey squirrels, have displaced reds from most of the UK, and now only 140,000 reds are left. Red squirrels are protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, schedules 5 & 6.

Local status

The Durham BAP area has lost most of its red squirrels over the last 15 years or so, as greys have moved in from the south. However, a number of small populations still appear to be viable, especially in the north of the area. Furthermore, there is movement of both red and grey squirrels across the river Tyne between Durham and Northumberland, where red squirrel population presently survives, though threatened.


Grey squirrels displace reds by:

  • Competition for food and habitat, causing stress, starvation, loss of reproductivity and juvenile recruitment.
  • Transmission of pox virus – mostly fatal to red squirrels.
  • Grey squirrels are now spreading across Europe from introduction sites in Italy.  Thus without intervention, the species will be threatened with global extinction.