Letter: Squirrel entente

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Sir: Your "man in the undergrowth" is right to point out that the red and grey squirrels sharing a home at Stormont Castle are not likely to be found sharing a peanut or building a nest together (Pandora, 9 April). Their behaviour may not provide a blueprint for peace in Northern Ireland but, luckily for the threatened red squirrel, the whole story amounts to much more than a cute allegory for the province's political troubles.

Red squirrels have occupied the grounds of Stormont Castle probably for centuries and, when the grey squirrels started to arrive just a few years ago, their fate should have been sealed. Once grey squirrels arrive on the scene, the reds can be expected to die off within about 10 years.

Stormont's red squirrels have survived with the help of special red-only feeders that provide enough extra food to stop them succumbing to the competition from the greys. These were provided by the Ulster Wildlife Trust and Northern Ireland's Environment and Heritage Service. The groundsmen of Stormont Castle alerted the Wildlife Trust to the problem in the first place and now maintain the feeders. By working together, these three groups have saved the red squirrels.

The red squirrel is threatened with extinction in the UK and it can only be saved if government, conservationists, landowners and the public can work together. What has happened in Stormont gives us hope because it shows us that co-operation is not an impossible task. Co-operation at Stormont - that sounds like the start of another allegory.

HELEN BAKER

The Wildlife Trusts

London SW1

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