Two red squirrels born in Belfast Zoo have been released into Silent Valley Mountain Park, as part of a nationwide scheme to boost numbers of this much-loved but endangered mammal.
Silent Valley was selected as the release site due to the ongoing efforts of the Mourne Heritage Trust, Ulster Wildlife, and NI Water to enhance woodland in the area, and to keep it free from the invasive non-native grey squirrel – the main reason for the reds decline.
The squirrels will live temporarily in a soft release pen in order to help them adapt to their new surroundings. The pen was donated by The Woodland Trust, along with one thousand native broadleaved trees to increase the woodland habitat that these squirrels will call home.
Additional feeders have been provided through Ulster Wildlife’s ‘Red Squirrels United’ project to support the squirrels while they get used to living in the wild.
The female captive-bred squirrels will be joined by two wild males relocated from Kilbroney Park under permission and licensing from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Forestry Service NI. This will allow the new red squirrel population to grow and flourish in their new home.
Dave Farnan, Area Ranger for the Mourne Heritage Trust says, “This project symbolises a new era of partnership for red squirrel conservation in County Down. The support we have received has been overwhelming, and there has been a real communal effort to make this squirrel release happen. I am delighted to see Red Squirrels back in Silent Valley and hope that we can keep the momentum going with more projects dedicated to conserving and enhancing our wonderful habitats and wildlife in the future.”