Volunteering To Support Our Red Squirrels

Jun 2, 2021 | Uncategorized

Here are just some of the ways you could get involved with your own local
Red Squirrel volunteer group:
Across the UK our thousands of volunteers hail from all across the UK and
all walks of life, giving up their precious time to aid our native red
squirrels. They play key roles in monitoring populations and raising
awareness of the plight of the red squirrel, as well as undertaking more
hands-on tasks.
Here at the RSST, we value each and every one of our volunteers, no
matter how large or small a role they play. Volunteering and supporting is
easy, and the work doesn’t have to be overly time consuming:
Placing and maintaining supplementary feeders
Supplementary feeders are a wonderful way to keep an eye on red
squirrels in gardens or a local area, and are used lots in translocation
processes. When placing feeders, it’s important to place them at a
suitable height – for instance up a tree or on a higher platform – to avoid
red squirrel predation. In terms of maintaining the feeders, it’s essential to
use the right sorts of food, and keep food regularly changed and not left
sitting. Most volunteer groups know what foods to use, so check in with
your local one if you are ever unsure! Reds love walnuts, Cobnuts (Hazel)
and sunflower seeds. It’s recommended that maize isn’t used as a food
offering, as this can attract greys.
Cleaning Feeders
If a dangerous virus does ever break out within your local squirrel
population, feeding stations can be real sources of transmission. To
prevent any further spread or to help stop outbreaks, volunteer groups
must be aware of the need to take down supplementary feeders as soon
as possible if a virus is present. Feeders should be cleaned regularly
(ideally weekly or every couple of weeks) to reduce the chance of
infections or virus transmission, with an anti-viral wash like Virkon S.
Placing and observing trail cameras
Trail cameras are a hugely useful way to confirm red squirrel sightings in
areas which aren’t local or domestic gardens. The cameras are organised
by a particular local group who decide where they want them to be placed
– usually opposite feeders. These cameras try and monitor a) where red
squirrels are, b) how many are there, and can c) over time allow physical
and behavioural characteristics to be identified.
If the cameras are picking up no red squirrel activity over time, this could
likely confirm that there are none in that particular area. Moving the
cameras around to other locations can help see where reds are present,
and as importantly, the potential population density in those areas.
Recording sightings
When volunteer groups record sightings, it is as important to track grey
squirrels as reds. There is, however, a difference in urgency. Grey squirrel
sightings are incredibly insightful because they indicate which areas need
to be protected, and by how much. Data and details on sightings is
normally recorded and stored in organised local areas, where trends can
then be analysed. An example of this is The Hub coordinated by Saving
Scotland’s Red Squirrels, who respond to all those reporting squirrel
sightings and build a rapport with communities. These central databases
are hugely important in creating a country wide picture of where squirrels
Collecting dead squirrels for autopsy/testing
Though sadly not the nicest of tasks, collecting dead squirrels is another
very important job carried out by volunteers. Doing so can allow the
reasons behind a squirrel’s death to be better understood and means
recurrences of a virus in the population can be checked. Today, it is more
probable that a red squirrel will die from being hit by a car, than from
disease, and though this may not sound like good news, it is a real
reflection of how conservation communities and volunteer groups are
reacting very effectively to virus outbreaks in red populations, and
minimising spreads. If it wasn’t for volunteers, vast swathes of reds would
already have been lost to disease!
Trap placement and monitoring
The trapping of red squirrels by volunteer groups is a fundamental stage
in translocation or reintroduction projects. The process involved in
capturing live reds often begins with using single traps in closed garden or
woodland locations. Squirrels are sourced from different familial groups
and areas to ensure that there is minimal impact on the donor
populations. Once squirrels are trapped, these traps are taken away to a
different site. It is essential that traps are monitored very regularly:
normally, at least twice a day.
Using thermal image cameras
Similar to trail cameras, thermal image cameras can be extremely useful
in identifying where and how dense red squirrel populations are. These
cameras show where warm bodies are up in tree canopies, where squirrels
can be very difficult to spot. Volunteer groups can use these cameras to
discover where red squirrel populations are, or to track where grey
squirrels might be. Depending on the area, different volunteer groups
condone different measures of handling grey squirrels – some employ full
time ‘Grey Control Officers’ or use rangers to find and deal with
PIT/Electronic tagging
Tagging red squirrels with either electronic tags or PIT (passive integrated
transponders) tags has been proven to be a very effective way to monitor
population activity and see how squirrels are adapting to living in new
areas. This method allows movement to be tracked and information to be
provided on how close reds stay to their homes for instance, or how their
movement is dictated by food sources. Volunteer groups are again key
players in the process of tagging and monitoring squirrels.
Using Release Boxes
Volunteer groups can use release boxes very effectively to relocate live
wild squirrels. These boxes mean squirrels can go from capture to release
in a new site all in the same day, and the boxes contain food and fresh
fruit to keep the squirrels hydrated. When at the release site, the boxes
are placed high on a tree and fixed in place. Here the tape is taken off,
and the hole is stuffed full off moss and leaves to allow the squirrel to
emerge when it’s hungry.
Community Engagement
Community engagement is another hugely powerful way in which
volunteer groups help in the plight of the red squirrel. In attending local
events, having stands at fetes and speaking in schools, these
conservation groups create awareness of what’s going on at a wider
community level. They create materials and resources and organise
activities to engage and involve those in local areas.
Landowner Engagement
Ensuring landowners are on board with red squirrel conservation efforts
has been occasionally problematic in certain areas recently. Sometimes
farmers or landowners are reluctant to allow those who aren’t what they
deem sufficiently qualified onto their land, to help deal with squirrel
populations. However, if grey squirrels are known to be on someone’s land
or in a nearby co-joining woodland, negotiation is essential if grey control

and conservation efforts are to be successfully maintained.

Volunteer groups help to a) educate local landowners on the importance
of their involvement for the longevity of the species, but also b) raise
awareness on how much damage grey squirrels are causing to their trees.
As a result, volunteers play a further important role in opening doors to
improved conservation efforts.
Fund raising/grant and donation applications
On all community levels, red squirrel volunteer groups require support
from a financial perspective. They may conduct their own fundraising
efforts and initiatives; collect donations; or alternatively help those in their
communities with grant or funding applications. These applications can be
very time consuming and complex, with some taking a considerable
period of time before funding is eventually secured. Some groups are well
versed in how to compile these applications and are also aware of which
angles or routes to channel which may prove more successful.
Data Management
Pulling data together and analysing trends is another fundamental
element of species conservation. Once the observations and sightings are
submitted, the recording, storage and usage of that data is a critical part
of the conservation process. Once again, volunteers play integral roles
here in local data management projects. The Hub by Saving Scotland’s
Red Squirrels is another key example of utilising data in a community roll
out, that allows data to be maintained at group, regional and country
level, alongside a dashboard that permits data usage in a meaningful and
insightful way.
Running the website and handling social media activity
This is a further area in which red squirrel volunteers can really get
creative and come into their own. Updating websites and running social
media platforms can be time-consuming, though these jobs really do help
reach others in local areas and encourage community involvement. Social
media is continuing to become an increasingly powerful tool to interact
with people, and many volunteer groups across the country use Facebook
and Instagram very successfully to keep their communities updated and
Additionally, these virtual positions also importantly allow people to get
involved who may not be able to do so on the ground. Age, location,
disability, or circumstance might prevent someone physically doing field
work, but they do still have an opportunity to involve themselves in a
number of crucial roles.
Field trials for research
To help protect this endangered native species, research really is key. Field
trials can be hugely informative, and volunteers are often vital in helping
with the steps leading up to trials and studies. To use the current Fertility
Control Project https://squirrelaccord.uk/squirrels/fertility_control
as an example, volunteer groups have helped across a number of levels to date.
From analysing and testing how to encapsulate the vaccine, to how the
vaccine would be administered and ultimately deployed. Many initial trials
have been conducted to deliver a high degree of bait take up, but
ensuring that it remains species specific.

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