Nature lovers asked to help with squirrel and marten survey

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Lovers of the outdoors are being asked to help improve our understanding of Irish wildlife in a survey of squirrel and Pine Marten populations led by NUI Galway.

Zoology researchers from the Ryan Institute at NUIG are teaming up with Ulster Wildlife and Vincent Wildlife to try and get an up to date information on the distribution of the red and grey squirrel and pine marten throughout Ireland.

They are inviting members of the public to participate in a Citizen Science survey, and record their sightings of the three mammal species during 2019.

Similar surveys were carried out in 1997, 2007, and 2012 and the fresh findings will be compared with those to get a grasp of the current status of these animals.

Dr Colin Lawton from Zoology in the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway said he hoped people will enthusiastically join in this conservation project.

“We have seen changes in the ranges of the red and grey squirrel and the pine marten in the previous surveys and it is vital that we keep recording their progress.”

Since being introduced to Ireland in 1911, the grey squirrel population exploded and drove the native red squirrels back through disease and being unable to compete with its larger neighbour.

But the 2012 survey showed signs that greys squirrels were retreating in many areas, which has been at least partially attributed to the resurgence of the pine marten.

“This is a fascinating story where the recovery of one native species, the pine marten, has slowed the progress of an invasive species, the grey squirrel,” Dr Lawton said.

“The red squirrel, another native species, has shown signs of recovery as a result,” he added.

Since becoming a protected species in 1985, pine marten numbers have improved throughout Ireland.

And according to these zoologists in areas where its population is greatest in Fermanagh and the midlands, grey squirrels have almost disappeared.

While grey squirrels cannot seem to cope with this predator, red squirrels have lives alongside the marten for centuries and happily continue to do so.

Speaking about this fresh survey Conor McKinney, from Ulster Wildlife, added that public help is “critical” for large scale data collection, “and indeed for conservation efforts for red squirrels, pine marten and other species right across the island of Ireland.”

Members of the public can record their sightings using the 2019 All-Ireland Squirrel and Pine Marten Survey pages hosted by the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

For more information or to take part go to www.biodiversityireland.ie.