Our grey squirrel rangers Blog page

2018 - a New Year

Hello and happy new year. My first post of 2018, I hope you all had a merry Christmas and didnít over do the food and alcohol intake. I took a whole week off over Christmas, well I say that I had a week off actually means that I didnít drive down into the project area. I never actually turn off. I am always doing, thinking, making, reading or talking about conservation, habitat management and grey squirrel management. My job is ever changing and evolving and when you are dealing with nature nothing is as straight forward as it appears.

I am a lucky man living and working in Cornwall. I get to spend the majority of my time in some of the most beautiful places and I get to see some amazing things. With the project being based on the most westerly point of England it is a lot warmer than the rest of the country. In fact the woodlands in Cornwall are actually classed as temperate rain forest and they are a hugely important and diverse habitat for all sorts of plants and animals.

So last week I spent a lot of time walking through several wooded valleys looking for grey squirrel activity. As I mentioned last time after the 21st December the day light hours start to lengthen. This kick starts the breeding cycle in many animals and the extra daylight and warmth starts to wake trees and plants up.

So what do I look for when walking the woods? Well, this time of year the grey squirrels are starting to mate so you will see them chasing each other through the trees. You will also hear there warning bark as you or another predator approaches or you will hear them chattering at each other. The other thing to look out for is the piles of stripped cones or nut shells. The squirrel likes to sit on a little branch or stump just off the ground when eating. This gives them a little height advantage when it comes to predators.

We have lots of plans for 2018 including a series of videos on grey squirrel management and control. We also have some shows booked which will appear on our events page, so keep your eyes open for these as we love to meet our supporters. We are also looking to put together some training days on grey squirrel control and management for anybody who is interested, so busy times ahead.


CHRISTMAS TIME

We have just past a pinnacle point of the year that holds great significance in the wildlife calendar. The 21st December is the shortest day, or to be precise the shortest amount of daylight hours. From now on the daylight hours will not get any shorter. The sunrise/sunset times will alter then in approximately six weeks time the daylight hours will start to lengthen. This will in turn trigger many of the animals to start breeding although many animals have already started displaying to each other and pairing up.

So what have I been up to this week? Well, I have been out and about setting my traps and keeping my feeders topped up. Another big part of my job involves transect walking through woodlands looking for squirrel activity. The squirrels are very active at this time of year as, contrary to many peoples thoughts they do not hibernate. You can quite often find a pile of chewed nut shells on stumps or under branches or trees. Unlike the spring and summer, the squirrels are active all through the day needing to eat to keep the body fats up to keep warm.

Whilst walking I get a unique opportunity to observe the changes occurring in the woodlands. Not only do I get to see a huge variety of wildlife but I also get to observe their behaviour. For instance, this week I have been watching a pair of robins fighting over territory. They are fiercely territorial and they will fight to the death. My other guest who joined me this week was Britainís smallest bird the goldcrest. Many people think the Wren is the smallest but they are third in line for that particular accolade with the goldcrest and firecrest beating them to the post.

I'll be back with a new blog entry early in 2018.




WIND AND RAIN 18th December 2017

This week we have been affected by the weather, whilst the rest of the country has been struggling to operate due to the snow, we have been hit with high winds and heavy rain. This has limited the amount of time that I have spent in the woods this week. Sometimes you need to be a little bit sensible and walking around in a woodland in high winds isnít the best of ideas. However I have been busy catching up on paperwork and making some new feeders.

The forecast looked favourable on Tuesday so I set my alarm nice and early as I fully intended to get into the woods before day break. I have found the grey squirrels are much more active the first 2-3 hours of the day hence the reason for getting up early. I got settled in waiting on one of my feeders and then I managed to knock over my rifle. After a test shot my suspicions were confirmed, by knocking over my gun the scopes were way out of zero. That, as they say, was the end of that. Without the gun being zeroed my plans went right out of the window, so I packed everything up and trundled back home. As the scope was so far out I took the opportunity to strip and fit my new MTC Viper pro scope to my gun. I spent the rest of the day getting used to the new set up. We all spend a lot of time practicing and ensuring the guns and our shooting abilities are up to scratch.

All the rangers on the project have been generously supplied a rifle complete with scope from Brocock, Daystate and MTC Optics. These have formed an essential part of our everyday equipment.

Last week I started talking about the reasons why the grey squirrel affects the bird population so much, I am going to carry on with this subject this week. The grey squirrel is tolerant to tannins; this allows it to eat seeds and nuts before they are ripe, therefore with the grey squirrelís high population density they tend to go through and eat all the food in the woods. This leaves a shortage for all the other animals and birds. Another factor that takes a few years to come into play is the destruction and loss of habitat caused by the grey squirrel but I will go into that in more detail next week.

My photo this week is something a little different. It is the view over the local reservoir capturing the reflection of the rain clouds.




TREES AND SHOWS 11th December 2017

Another exciting week in the CRSP area with another ranger joining us. An extra pair of hands will make a huge difference in our task of securing a habitat suitable for our red squirrels to move into. The reintroduction of the iconic red squirrel is something that makes our project unique. The project can only work if we carry out a methodical landscape approach to grey squirrel control and to do that we need the co-operation and permissions from the landowners. Without removing the grey squirrel, we cannot reintroduce the red squirrel.

Whilst the aim of the project is to reintroduce the red squirrel, to me it is much more than that. It is a unique opportunity to enrich and improve the habitat in all the woodlands.

So, this brings to me to my jobs this week. My main task this week has been planting a large number of trees. Some of these trees will form an avenue down to a big house and the others will become an orchard containing both apple and pear trees. This planting scheme would not have been implemented without the grey squirrel control programme that we have in place.

My other task this week has been to photograph the local Primestock show. This is where the countryside comes into the local city celebrating all things rural. With classes for livestock, farm crops, handicrafts and cookery. Although this might appear not to have anything to do with squirrel control or reintroducing red squirrels, in fact it does. Being one of the highlights of the local rural calendar, it is an excellent opportunity to meet and update a lot of our landowners on the project. I also took the time to discuss the project with the general public and anybody else whom I could talk to.
In my last blog, I spoke about the effect the grey squirrel has on the song bird population. Studies have shown that woodlands where the grey squirrel moves in the bird population can decrease up to 20% per year, so if a woodland contains 1000 breeding pairs of wild birds, in 10 years it could drop down to 109 breeding pairs. So how does the Grey squirrel have such a catastrophic effect on our bird population? Grey squirrels are, like humans, omnivores meaning that they can tolerate and eat both plants and flesh. The grey squirrel, being an opportunist, will take eggs, chicks and adult birds if they come across a nest. I will carry on with this next week.

I will leave you this week with another one of my photos taken from the CRSP area. It is of one of our most recognizable birds with its distinctive red chest, the little Robin.



SEASONS CHANGING 7th December 2017

This is quite possibly my favorite time of year. As all the deciduous trees start to settle down for a well-deserved sleep they put on a magnificent display of color. This is most defiantly harvest time with the plethora of seeds, nuts, and berries available the wild larder is overflowing. All the animals are making the most of this banquet building up reserves to see them through the winter. Interestingly one of the comments that I hear on a regular basis is ďobviously you donít have much to do in the winter because all he squirrels hibernateĒ. This is one of those urban myths, neither the grey or the red squirrel hibernate. All our summer visitors leave for warmer climates and another wave of winter visitors arrive. So far this year I have seen woodcock, snipe, redwings and a fieldfare who all have made their long trip across the Continents. It always amazes me that these animals make these unbelievably long journeys every year.

In addition to the winter visitors, we still have all our permanent residents. The one thing I have noticed this year is the explosion of bird life in a number of woodlands where an extensive Grey Squirrel management plan has been in place. It has been proven that areas where the Grey Squirrel moves in the bird life decreases by 20% per year. There are a number of reasons why the Grey Squirrel has this catastrophic effect that I will go into next time.
It is an exciting time in the woods as soon we will be welcoming an old friend back. Everything in the woods is changing for the better so until next time enjoy the winter woods and its inhabitants. I will leave you with a photo that I took of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. This male came to see me a whilst working in a woods in the heart of the project area.

Ian



THE FIRST ENTRY 28th November 2017

A quick introduction, my name is Ian Hampton and I am one of the rangers working on the Cornwall Red Squirrel Project or CRSP for short. Donít worry if you have never heard of it, to be honest neither had I until 18 months ago. That is until a friend of mine rang me up and asked if I would like to get involved with a small project with big plans.

So who, or what, is the CRSP? We are a conservation project based on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall whose aim is to reintroduce one of the most iconic animals of the British woodlands, little Tufty himself, the Red Squirrel.

Our little red friends have been displaced over the years by the ever increasing march of their much larger American/Canadian cousin, the grey squirrel. The reason why this has happened I will go into more detail at a later date.

So, from my point of view, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to become involved with a project that will give something back to our woodlands and give me an opportunity to potentially make a difference. I handed in my notice at my last job that I had held for 25 years and became a Squirrel Ranger.

That was 18 months ago and I can quite safely say the job has turned into a way of life. I tend to eat, sleep and breathe red squirrel conservation. I have quickly learnt that there is far more to the job than securing a grey squirrel free habitat for our red squirrels to move into.

I get to spend my days working in some of the most breathtakingly beautiful places in the country and talk to people from all walks of life from royalty and peers of the realm to school children and farmers. Most of all I get to indulge in my two greatest passions; photography and the outdoors.

I am a very lucky man and all being well, I will be able to leave a legacy of being part of a team who will ensure healthy woodlands teeming with wildlife for generations to come.

This is going to be my story of the things I do and see in my day to day work as a squirrel ranger for the Cornwall Red Squirrel Project.

Ian