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Red Squirrel Action Group appeal for volunteers in wake of Larch disease crisis

February 10, 2014

Red Squirrels have faced a difficult time in recent years due to the competition from the grey squirrel and the disease they carry, as well as traffic accidents and fragmentation and loss of suitable habitat. Last week, The Examiner reported on the loss of habitat for the protected species during necessary tree felling taking place on Slieve Gullion to remove diseased Larch trees from the area.

The Ring of Gullion AONB project as part of its Management Action Plan have now written a local Red Squirrel Action Plan and helped to establish a Red Squirrel group, in order to implement the plan. The group have secured funding from the NIEA Challenge Fund to purchase appropriate Northern Ireland Red Squirrel Forum (NIRSF) approved metal feeders to help feed the Red Squirrel during the destruction of their natural habitat due to the tree felling.

The feeders will enable the group to set up new feeding points in the forest  which will enable controlled hygiene, thus minimising the risk of spreading diseases, such as the deadly pox virus. This disease can blight the Red Squirrel species, wiping a population out. The metal feeders will also combat against attacks by bigger animals trying to get the food. Until the approved metal feeders are supplied, the group advise individuals to continue with ground feeding only.

The group are appealing for more volunteers to help manage the feeders and feeding areas. The work involves filling the feeders every 2 days and disinfecting them once a week, to ensure that diseases are not spread between different species.

A spokesperson for Ring of Gullion AONB project explained the significance of finding Ramorum disease of Larch in the local area.

“The disease is, unfortunately, affecting a number of areas across Ireland and the UK,” said the ROG AONB representative.

“Larch crops in the Slieve Gullion and Camlough forest areas have been diagnosed as infected with the disease and due to the disease characteristics, their death is inevitable. Action to fell the trees is underway as this is the most effective way of preventing further spread to other forest species.

“The Red Squirrel Group work closely with Forest Service and we have discussed actions that can be taken to reduce the impact of the necessary felling operations. This includes agreeing  the best locations for feeders outside of larch areas for supplementary feeding.”

Although Slieve Gullion Forest Park remains open to visitors, Forest Service have released a statement advising members of the public of various safety measures to prevent the spread of the disease.

“Visitors to the forest should follow the guidance detailed on signs at the affected sites. It is especially important to avoid any action which could result in the movement of infected soil or plant parts to uninfected areas. The disease presents no risk to humans or animals, although the temporary loss of habitat for wild animals is inevitable.”

Forest Service are holding an information meeting  for people  interested in how the Larch disease can be dealt with in the Slieve Gullion Forest Park and Camlough forest areas. This will take place at Slieve Gullion Forest Park on 18 February 2014 from 2-4 pm.

Further details on the disease can be found at the NIDirect website: http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/preventing-the-spread-of-tree-disease.htm

To become a member of the Red Squirrel group or report your sightings of Red or Grey Squirrels and Pine Martens, visit: www.ringofgullion.org.

For more information on activities in the Ring of Gullion area, search for Ring of Gullion on Facebook and Twitter or visit www.visitnewryandmourne.com.

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