Last 'True West Country' Red Squirrels?

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Dorset Wildlife Trust are endeavouring to protect one of the last significant populations of DNA tested red squirrels in the south of England by putting them up for adoption.

Hazel, one of the wild Brownsea Island red squirrels

Dorset Wildlife Trust’s red squirrel adoption scheme helps to fund vital management of the pine woods for the benefit of the red squirrels...

The red squirrels of Brownsea Island in Poole, one of the most important populations of the native mammal in Britain, may be the last of true west country origin, according to new scientific research.

The population of about 200 red squirrels on Brownsea Island and a small number on other islands in Poole Harbour are, with those on the Isle of Wight, the only ones left in southern England, surviving here because the grey squirrel has not crossed the water. Elsewhere in the south and across much of England the greys, introduced from North America, have competed successfully for food and nest sites and brought a virus which can kill the native squirrels.

Recent studies by Dr Wei-Jun Liang and colleagues of Bournemouth University in association with Dorset Wildlife Trust have examined the DNA of the population, with results so far indicating that most of Brownsea’s squirrels are of genuine west of England stock, while other red squirrels on islands in Poole Harbour may have been introduced from the north. The team is able to determine DNA from the hair of dead squirrels and studies are continuing as samples (including museum specimens) become available.

Dorset Wildlife Trust’s red squirrel adoption scheme helps to fund vital management of the pine woods for the benefit of the squirrels on the National Trust-owned island. The scheme is supported by The John Lewis Partnership, which runs the Brownsea Castle as a holiday centre for its staff.

Chris Thain, Dorset Wildlife Trust’s reserve manager on Brownsea Island, said: “The population of red squirrels is significant for the U.K., providing a healthy gene pool of this endangered native mammal. This is achieved as a result of careful woodland management and we are very grateful to John Lewis and to all our red squirrel adopters for their support, which helps to fund this work.”

If you would like to help protect the last true west country red squirrels, visit our red squirrel adoption page or contact Dorset Wildlife Trust on 01305 264620 or eking(at)dorsetwildlifetrust(dot)org(dot)uk. Last orders to adopt a red squirrel for Christmas should be received by 15th December 2010.

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Alastair Cook
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