Our grey squirrel rangers Blog page

14th September 2018 - Red Squirrels Arrive!

Wow, at long last we have red squirrels on the Lizard! Before you get too excited they are in an enclosure, but nevertheless this represents a big step forward for our project. The red squirrels have been sourced from the National Studbook for red squirrels which ensures captive bred red squirrels are suitably unrelated from each when they are paired up for breeding, and that they are all microchipped and disease tested. We've done this with help from our friends at Paradise Park, who over the years have bred over 70 young red squirrels, most of which have been released into Wales to help red squirrel populations there.

With the enclosure at Trelowarren we now have three centres for red squirrel breeding in Cornwall, one at Paradise Park, one at Trewithen and one at Trelowarren. The aim is that we'll be able to breed our own red squirrels ready for release.

12th Feb 2018 - Snow and shows!

A week with a difference on the project as there was bit of a shock to the system when I looked out of the window on Wednesday to see a white world! Yes, we actually had a smattering of snow. Those of you who live further north will probably laugh when you see the pictures but an inch of snow caused total chaos, with schools shut, cars in ditches and police shutting roads. The fact is we Cornish are just are not used to the snow, in fact the last time we had any snow in the county was 9 years ago.

The project area is situated on the most southerly point of England. Being this far south the climate is very mild with high humidity. These factors give us something in common with New Zealand, the Black Sea, Georgia and Northern Iran to name just a few places, as we are all classed as temperate rain forest. The moist conditions of temperate rain forests generally support an understory of mosses, ferns and some shrubs with a mixture of broadleaved and conifer woodlands.

The cold weather doesnít really make much of a difference to our native wildlife with only the hedgehog, dormouse and the 17 native species of bats that hibernate. This is an indication of precisely how mild this country actually is. This is also another reason why the grey squirrel has flourished in this country. In its native countries of America and Canada the winters are much harsher with the mortality rate being quite high. This, along with a greater range of predators, all helps to keep the population in check where the grey squirrel is a native species.

So what have I been up to this week? Well as per normal I have been out and about working to secure the habitat in preparation for the arrival of our red squirrels. The bulk of my time at this time of year is taken up with removing dreys. As well as the drey removal I have also been spending a considerable amount of time talking to people about the project and the reasoning behind it. If you were not aware under the Wildlife and Countryside Act it is illegal to release a captured grey squirrel, they must be humanely dispatched. At this moment in time we only have lethal means of management for our grey squirrel population. This can and does upset some people. It is and always will be a hugely emotive subject and you are always going to have some people object. All I can do is give people the facts and tell them the truth. This at least gives them the necessary information to make an educated decision.

Next week I will be spending a lot of time talking to people as I will be attending the British shooting show at the NEC In Birmingham. I am going to be in and around the show supporting our sponsors Brocock, Daystate and MTC optics. So if you are at the show and you have some time to burn come and say hello. Have a look at our sponsors range of guns and optics and if you are really desperate I will be quite happy to talk all things squirrel. I will be quite easy to spot just look out for the big Cornishman looking like a fish out of water. I am more used to being in the middle of a woods by myself or with my dog rather than in a massive exhibition hall surrounded by people!

I will leave you with of photo of a daffodil providing a blaze of colour and brightening the day, and on the flip side if you are coming to the show, a photo of me so you know who to come and chat to!

See you all next week

Ian



31st January 2018 - Rain, rain and more rain!

Hello again from a very soggy Cornwall. I must admit that I am getting just a little fed up with constant rain. All the fields are absolutely saturated and it makes even the simplest of tasks hard work. Just walking around in the woods is more like going ice skating.

Even though the weather has been rather inclement there are still lots of things to see. The damp weather is perfect for certain types of fungi, you suddenly see mushrooms of all shapes, sizes and colors popping up all over the place. The Kingdom of the fungi is absolutely huge with conservative estimates of over a million different species. At this time fewer that 100,000 species have been scientifically described and classified with 17000 of those varieties of fungi to be found in England.

You might be wandering what fungi has to do with red squirrels? Well certain fungi provide a valuable food source, but more importantly all the different fungi provide a valuable service within our woodlands constantly breaking down dead wood and leaves into simpler compounds that living plants can use as food.

This is all part of the complex ecosystem of the forests. Everything thing has a part to play to maintain a balance. This is another reason why it is so important to control invasive species as they can disrupt this delicate balance.
I am going to leave you with a couple of photos of some fungi that I spotted last week. The first one is the Yellow Brain Fungus or to give it its other name Witches butter the next one is the Jelly ear fungus or Jews ear fungus apparently both are edible according to some sources but I would seek expert advice.




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