Last-ditch plan to save red squirrels launched

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The red squirrel was once a common sight in gardens and woods throughout England. Since the North American grey squirrel was introduced to England in the late 19th century, the species has suffered a catastrophic decline, as the greys outcompete the reds for food and carry a virus that is lethal to the reds. Grey squirrels now outnumber reds by 66 to 1.

Today, conservationists of the Red Alert North England campaign, which includes wildlife trusts, the Forestry Commission and landowners, have launched a strategy to try to save the red squirrel from extinction. The North of England Red Squirrel Conservation Strategy is the biggest commitment to red squirrel conservation and will cost more than £1m.

Efforts will focus on 16 red squirrel reserves across the conifer forests of Northumberland, Cumbria, Yorkshire and Merseyside, which offer the species the best chance of survival.

The woodlands chosen will be managed to support healthy populations of red squirrels, but which are less well suited to the higher energy demands of the larger grey squirrel. Targeted grey squirrel control will take place in "buffer zones" surrounding the reserves to protect the red populations.

Landowners and farmers in the reserves and buffer zones are backing the plan, and will be provided with advice, training and support.