Rare flying squirrel 'saved'

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One of Europe's rarest small mammals - the flying squirrel - has been saved from extinction, sparing the Finnish Government from legal action issued by the European Commission.

The Finnish government has changed its law to protect the squirrels and paid out €1m in compensation to about 400 farmers and landowners who have had to curb normal activities for the squirrels' safety.

After a lengthy tussle over the plight of the protected species the European Commission has dropped the threat of legal action against Finland amid signs that the flying squirrel population is now viable.

Apart from Finland, Estonia is the only EU country with a flying squirrel population and only a few hundred are thought to exist there. The species has disappeared from Latvia and Lithuania, countries in which it once thrived.

The first comprehensive survey, conducted last year in Finland, produced an estimate of around 143,000 females nesting in the country. That, however, is a big reduction on the numbers half a century ago.

Forestry has eaten away at the flying squirrels' habitat. The mammals prefer well-established mixed forests with spruce trees - forest that has been felled since the 1960s.