Ian with trained ‘squirrel sniffers’, Spike and Jock
I’m Ian Glendinning. I was born and raised in Hexham, west of Newcastle in Northumberland. For most of my working life. I was in Newcastle working for the Northumbria Police Force. Most of my career was as a firearms instructor. I retired in 2006 and am a latecomer to red squirrel conservation. I joined the Upper Coquetdale Red Squirrel volunteer group in 2019 and in November of 2022, and was asked to become Chair. After retiring, I entered further education with a combined STEM degree and I’m currently undertaking an MSc degree in Sustainability and Environmental Management.
3 years ago, I spotted a red squirrel in my garden and put up a feeder. Within a day, two red squirrels were visiting. I then put a feeder in the nearby farmyard garden and within an hour a red squirrel was visiting there too. To see if they were the same, or individual squirrels. I began photographing them in detail and realised they were three different squirrels. In total I reckon there were ten to fifteen individuals in our immediate woods. As I studied them more. I got more involved with my local group. From using high resolution images for identifying squirrels through physical measurements and fur and whisker identification, I have studied food preference extensively , experimenting with different foods presented in different ways. The conclusion is that reds will cross burning coals for hazelnuts. When given food variety, hazelnuts were eaten first. If hazelnuts were hidden beneath other food items, they would uncover the hazelnuts and cache or eat them first, sometimes leaving other food. Another surprise for me was that the popularly held view that females are promiscuous might not be the case. My observations show a surprising amount of monogamy, something I can tell due to my ability to identify individual animals.
I estimate that I now have some forty to fifty red squirrels in about 180 acres of mixed woodland, In 2022 I removed over 200 greys from these woods just in that year. If we were to stop, they would be dominating again within a year. Since becoming Chair, I’ve tried to really push our community engagement through meeting, talks to adult groups, visits to schools and the like. Landowner engagement has been successful too. Our long to medium term goal is to fundraise to employ at least one full time ranger, not only to conduct grey squirrel management, but also to train and conduct community engagement. We have a community/schools project to plant some 500 Hazel Trees, initially to enhance habitat. Another goal is to acquire the managership of a large piece of woodland nearby that covers some 400 acres and develop it as a community reserve, not just for red squirrels but for all manner of native wildlife and plants with hides built for photography and observation.
One of my real frustrations is where large national organisations seem to tell one story from the top, but fail to deliver at local level. This nearby woodland contains grey squirrels, but access to manage their numbers is denied. The organisation it’s leased to maintains the same stance, yet it has a dedicated red squirrels conservation presence. This lack of consistency is why volunteers don’t engage. Trapping in some locations is permitted but not in others. GPS alert systems are not permitted to make trap monitoring more efficient and humane. Where trapping is permitted, airgun dispatch is not which limits the number of people prepared to assist.
Despite this, the main reason I do what I do is a passion for our indigenous wildlife and the satisfaction of seeing a positive effect from management, allied to increasing my knowledge, and hopefully others, in relation to red squirrels in general.
Contemplating big life issues as a ‘littlun’
Upper Coquetdale reds can levitate hazelnuts at their command
Spike and Jock are keen to check the feeders are empty too
If you wish to help, volunteer, or donate, please visit www.coquetdalesquirrelgroup.co.uk or join us
on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/coquetdalesquirrels.