I’m Jon Fishman, a U.S citizen originally from Arizona. Four years or so ago, I moved to Shanklin on the Isle of Wight with my English wife Linda. I spent 22 years in the U.S. Marine Corps combining a military career with my love of music as a drummer in multiple military bands. Linda and I met in California and eventually found our way to the Isle of Wight where Linda’s mother lived. Her mother worked extensively with Helen Butler MBE, who founded both the Wight Squirrel project, a charity that focusses on the science, data and wellbeing of red squirrels, and the IOW Red Squirrel Trust, another charity that looks to the awareness and education aspects of the conservation effort. The Trust had a shop in Ryde and Linda and I would help regularly and that’s what drew us in. From this, we started putting together presentations to give talks and lectures to various groups on the island. We feel it’s important that whilst the presentations should be tailored to their intended audience, they should contain accurate detail, statistics and facts so that the audience, whatever age group, is learning something. This is where Helen and the Wight Squirrel Project, with 30 years of data to draw on come into their own.
With Linda writing, and my job as an independent psychologist consultant, we work full time, and so the lecturing allows us to participate and contribute without impacting our work time. I feel that sometimes people would like to volunteer for a cause, but are concerned that it would require a huge time commitment. That doesn’t need to be the case and there are many skillsets that can really help a charity enormously. Our lectures are to groups across all ages, from schools, youth activity organisations through to adult social groups. Fortunately, my accent doesn’t get me held personally accountable for the arrival of the American Grey Squirrel. They have been seen on the odd occasion here but have not managed to get any kind of foothold. If I’m not mistaken, it’s written somewhere that if a stowaway grey squirrel is found on an incoming ferry, it must turn back to the mainland. We are somewhat unique in that we (and Brownsea Island) have possibly one of the few original genetic strains of red squirrels left in the UK, something that could be significant for future translocations/reintroductions. Much of the remainder of the country has strains linked to Scandinavia and Northern Europe that were part of historical reintroduction programmes. Linda has also created a blog that we use to promote all things related to IOW red squirrels. https://redsquirrelsandnature.blogspot.com
and we like to think that it’s a great addition to our presentation work in raising awareness, and potentially drawing in more volunteers and donations.
Even though we are water bound and ‘grey free’ our reds are still constantly at risk. Cars account for the largest reported cause of death. Our signage warning motorists has been improved, and road authorities have agreed to leave alone where high branches meet across roads to allow natural passage for the squirrels. A more worrying trend has been the uptick in development activity from some recreation and holiday interests who remove woodland to increase capacity, ignoring the warnings they are given about habitat destruction. This seems to have become more prevalent during the pandemic due to the ‘staycation trend’ and remains an ongoing concern. The pandemic has had a significant impact on our activities for obvious reasons but we’re hoping that now, we can get back out there more as restrictions begin to ease. We enjoy the work immensely knowing that it is contributing to making more people aware that we need to preserve these animals and the importance of the Isle of Wight red squirrel population on a larger scale.