Gerard shows what you can do with old Covid screens
I live in Glenshesk, one of the Nine Glens of Antrim, south east of Ballycastle on the north coast of Northern Ireland. I retired almost 6 years ago and retirement gave me the opportunity to become more involved with the Glens Red Squirrel Group. I’ve always had a keen interest in wildlife, particularly birds of prey and it was a chance conversation with Daniel McAfee of GRSG who told me about red squirrels in my neck of the woods. I borrowed a feeder and trail camera to see them and it was around 2010 that I joined GRSG, first becoming a committee member and then a Ranger in 2014 when the GRSG developed the idea of Red Squirrel Rangers.
The Glens Red Squirrel Group formed around 2008 and was one of the first in Northern Ireland. Originally covering some fifty miles of woodland from Ballycastle in the north, down to Larne. It’s grown enormously from those early days. We provide awareness and education to many age groups with guided walks and safari trails, workshops covering trapping, trail camera use, bird box and squirrel feeder building. We also promote, and carry out tree planting and forest and woodland restoration locally, specifically with future red squirrel habitats in mind. Along with other groups, we helped Belfast Zoo get their breeding programme up and running by supplying suitable young wild squirrels. When potential and new members join there are two key parts to be done. (a) do what’s necessary to help them survive in the short term, and (b) plant and manage now for their long-term future.
We have surveyed much of the territory we cover and whilst some glens have great mixed tree cover, other areas are sadly lacking. One neighbour offered a two-acre site which was of interest to me as it borders two other woodland sites which have healthy populations of reds, one of which was planted by my grandfather some 100 years ago. In the winter of 2014, we cleared the site, and a contractor planted 1270 trees, mixing many native species. The trees have been in for 8 years now and are taller than me and growing well. We meet a few times a year to clear grass and other growth to keep them in top condition. Pine Martens are in many of the areas where we work, and they are making a slow comeback. I think the reason it’s so slow is the lack of abundance and variety of small mammals and rodents generally. Reds won’t be easy to catch apart from the old and sickly and are as likely to be predated by foxes, domestic cats and birds of prey as they are Pine Martens. Without a plentiful supply of food, Pine Marten numbers won’t be rapidly increasing based on red squirrel presence alone. Sadly, more reds are lost to road traffic in the Glens than any other means.
I was surprised I’d been nominated for the RSST Volunteer of the Year award, let alone won. I felt chuffed and embarrassed in equal measures. I think it’s a reflection of what we do as a group, rather than what I do myself.
The GRSG feeders are popular in Ballycastle forest
The local community thoroughly enjoy the “GRSG Red Squirrel Safaris” in Glenariff
Early evening supper club in Ballycastle Forest
To find out more about the Glens Red Squirrel Group contact;
For red squirrel conservation groups across Northern Ireland visit;