J.D.J Braithwaite discusses his red squirrel conservation work and appeals for owners of woodland to come forward and support the initiative.
The stunning and ancient woodlands of the Lake District hide an on-going battle from a formidable foe. The non-native grey squirrel arrived in Lakeland around the early 1990s and now has a stronghold throughout the region. This is worrying for a host of reasons, perhaps most notably because this part of the country is also home to our native and endangered red squirrel. Sadly these two species cannot really co-exist as the greys can carry the squirrel parapox virus to which they themselves are immune but it is fatal for the red squirrel. Red squirrels were once commonplace in the Lune valley but in many regions, they have long since gone.
A large part of modern Red Squirrel conservation involves the humane removal of the Grey Squirrel from our woodlands. Volunteer airgunners like me make a significant contribution in this regard. A modern airgun is an ideal tool for the humane removal of pest species like the grey squirrel. Modern airguns are highly engineered and precise. They are ecological (only firing a single pellet) are near silent and highly discrete. A lot of my woodland shooting occurs around pheasant pens, free range poultry, near horse paddocks and livestock – animals which remain undisturbed when such a quiet tool is discharged.
I currently run and am part of conservation projects in west Cumbria (Eskdale, Ravenglass regions) and here in the Lune Valley area. My projects in the Lune valley region began in 2018 and since that time I have removed over 200 grey squirrels in total (from five separate woodlands). The success of this particular local project is largely due to the support I have been given by farmers, landowners and estates that are located close together – meaning I can cover and target a host of neighbouring woodland areas. As a consequence, I am able to maximise my footprint in restoring balance in the area and preparing the woods for the return of the reds. These types of projects will always be more successful because of this – but they are wholly dependent on landowners coming forward and supporting these projects by giving permission for access to their woodlands.
Approach & Methodology
The removal of any pest species must be respectful, humane, and effective. For grey squirrels the most effective method is to place ‘feeders’ in the woodlands to attract them into the area and get them stationary. Wildlife trail cameras can be placed facing the feeders which will capture all visits to it and provide important information on squirrel numbers and feeding times. This information is then used to guide decisions for effective control. I make visits to the feeders to top them up with peanuts about once a week which also allows me to keep a general eye on things in the woodland. To assist my conservation work I will utilise technologies like the latest in thermal imaging which can help greatly with monitoring and spotting wildlife of interest. All sightings (even if red squirrels show up) and culls are recorded in a spreadsheet and returned to squirrel conservation groups who collate information at a county based level.
Can you help?
I am currently appealing to local landowners who might be interested in supporting similar projects in their woods. If you own woodland or know someone who does, I’d be delighted to discuss what could be done for you to help our red squirrels as much as we can. Please spread the word.
I have over 35years experience of hunting with air rifles. I am a fully insured member of the British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and have written for their publications and Blog. I have also written for national airgun magazines (Airgun Shooter) and have recently authored the book “The Airgunner’s Companion: A field guide to hunting with air rifles” (Quiller Publishing). I currently run projects on stately estates, manor houses, farms, small holdings and private dwellings. I would like to invite local landowners in the Whittington and surrounding area to come forward and support conservation projects through the humane removal of pest species by contacting me and discussing options for setting up a respectful, discrete service for them. I am a volunteer enthusiast and my time is given freely.
If you feel you could support a project in your woodland please contact me to discuss it further.