Volunteers sought to help red squirrels thrive in Ballynahinch

Monday 25th June 2018

Red squirrel (c) Charles ThodyRed squirrel (c) Charles Thody

Ulster Wildlife is appealing for volunteers to help protect red squirrels in Montalto Estate, in Ballynahinch, and the surrounding area, where a recent red squirrel sighting has sparked fresh hope for this endangered mammal.

Montalto Estate was once a haven for red squirrels until they were pushed out by the invasive non-native grey squirrel, which out-compete reds for food and places to live and transmit the deadly squirrel pox virus.

To help give Montalto’s reds a fighting chance of survival, the charity plans to help establish a new red squirrel volunteer group in the area and has organised a workshop in Montalto Estate on 23rd July at 7 pm for anyone interested in helping with conservation efforts. Access to the estate is via the Dromore Street entrance.

Volunteers are needed to monitor woodlands for red squirrel, grey squirrel and pine marten using camera traps and feeders, and to gather information about where they are nesting and breeding so that efforts can be focused more effectively. Volunteers are also sought to help prevent the reinvasion of invasive greys into the area.

Shanna Rice, Ulster Wildlife’s Red Squirrel Officer for the Mournes, said: “Thanks to work undertaken by the Wilson Johnston, Montalto Estate’s Volunteer Ranger, we are fortunate to have an optimum site for red squirrels to thrive in. With one red already being spotted in the estate and several more sightings in the surrounding area, it hopefully won’t be long before we see them in the grounds once more.

Shanna added: “Volunteers play a crucial role in enabling red squirrels to thrive, as clearly shown by the vital work carried out by Tollymore Red Squirrel Group. By establishing a similar network of volunteers in Montalto and the surrounding area, we can help give our reds a fighting chance of survival and ensure that the heart of Down can become a stronghold for these iconic creatures in the future.”

The local nature conservation charity hopes that with continued volunteer efforts, captive-bred red squirrels from Belfast Zoo can be released into Montalto Estate to help give the red squirrel population the boost it needs to recover.

Montalto Estate will be opening to the public later this year. This will give people the chance to reconnect with nature while exploring the estate and hopefully spotting some red squirrels.

Members of the public who live in Ballynahinch and the surrounding towns and villages are being urged to help by reporting sightings of both red and grey squirrels visiting their gardens.

To find out more and to report squirrel sightings in the area, contact Shanna Rice at shanna.rice@ulsterwildlife.org or Wilson Johnston at ranger@montaltoestate.com.

In Northern Ireland, Ulster Wildlife is working in four red squirrel strongholds, including South Down and the Mournes, to help protect this endangered native species as part of Red Squirrels United - a UK-wide network supported by Heritage Lottery Fund, LIFE and NI Environment Agency. Visit www.ulsterwildlife.org/redsquirrels for further details.

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Tagged with: Species, Ballynahinch, Montalto Estate, Red squirrels