Friday, 11 November 2011

Fluffy Tails

Walking to work yesterday I took a slightly different route through one of the local parks. As normal it was lovely to see the orange and yellow leaves raining from the trees in flurries but I also saw more wildlife than normal.

Along the canal I don't often see squirrels but there were quite a few in the park. Lots of grey fluffy tails shooting up trees into the falling leaves. It's easy to forget that grey squirrels aren't native to this country but they've only been here since the 19th century. While travelling in Europe last summer I saw red squirrels in the parks. I've only seen a few and it's always an exciting sight. I forget quite how red they are and they're very well camouflaged  in the tall fir trees.

Red squirrels are native to the U.K. and have been here for thousands of years. The grey squirrel was introduced as a novelty in 1876 and since then has thrived. This wouldn't be a huge problem (although introduced species always raise questions) but the grey squirrel has adapted so well to the U.K. countryside that it now threatens the red squirrels survival in many areas. In the majority of England only grey squirrels were seen while in Scotland, Wales and the North East there are still red squirrels seen.

There are several theories for why the grey squirrels seem to be out competing the reds.One is that grey squirrels eat a wider range of foods than their red cousins, they can eat acorns which the red squirrels cannot. Thus they deplete the red squirrels foods but still have other foods to continue eating. Another possibility is that grey squirrels might carry the parapox virus (similar to myxomatosis ) and infect red squirrels which it kills. Further research needs to be done to fully understand this complex relationship.

I wish there were some red squirrels where I live, they really are beautiful to see but I still enjoy the flashes of grey that pass by while walking in the autumn leave.

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