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Pine martens could be helping the red squirrel make a comeback, but we need "continued research"

The population of the invasive grey squirrel is continuing to grow in Ireland.

Image: Jean-Jacques Boujot via Flickr/Creative Commons

MORE RESEARCH IS needed to gauge whether a growth in Ireland’s pine marten populations is proving to be key in halting the rapid decline of the red squirrel, the Irish Wildlife Trust has said.

A study published by NUIG hinted that the invasive grey squirrel’s population growth was halted in areas with growing numbers of pine martens, largely confined to areas of the Midlands.

It is thought this could be due to a stress-related depression in breeding.

Since it was introduced to Ireland over a hundred years ago, the grey squirrel has driven its red counterpart out of many areas.

This is due to a combination of disease and its ability to adapt better to certain environments.

Funding

However, funding for this kind of wildlife study has dried up in recent years.

“We would definitely support a lot more work on this whole subject”, Sarah Rubalcava of the Irish Wildlife Trust told TheJournal.ie.

She added that there was little point in grey squirrel culls as without identifying suitable areas where red squirrels could flourish, the greys would simply creep back in over time.

Culls of the animal are extremely localised and are only carried out when they are causing damage.

Shooting or trapping the animal is carried out by woodland owners due to the devastating effect the invasive animal can have on crops of trees.

Rubalcava stressed that pine marten conservation is vital, regardless of the benefit it will have on red squirrel conservation.

We’re particularly lucky here in Ireland to have a recovering pine marten  population.

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A spokesperson for the National Parks and Wildlife Service said that it has been difficult to track the exact population decline in recent years.

“We now have a doughnut shape of of the animal’s spread, with a surge in the Midlands, but a decline in surrounding countries.”

The grey squirrel is still expanding at the edge of its range into areas like Cork, but oddly enough has yet to cross the Shannon.

Rubalcava said it is acting as a “natural barrier” to the animal.

Localised projects, such as moving red squirrels from a healthy population in Wexford to a small colony at Killiney Hill in Dublin, have been successful in boosting population numbers.

Read: Squirrel and cat are unlikely best pals >

Watch: Confused squirrel interrupts US Open tennis match >

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