Mersea Island is home to the only community of red squirrels living in the wild in the southeast of England, thanks to the collaboration of the locals and a dedicated team keeping track of the population. The endangered species, once a familiar fluffy sight across the British Isles, is thriving on the picturesque coastal island after residents supported a campaign to bring the bushy tailed creature back to the area.
Native to Britain, this eye-catching red rodent has been in rapid decline since the 1950’s, with numbers dropping from around 3.5 million to around 120,000 after the invasive American grey squirrel was introduced to the country; the grey breed carries a disease which is often fatal to red squirrels. So, in 2014, residents on Mersea Island launched a local initiative to reintroduce red squirrels to the Mersea countryside. Wildlife experts identified the area as offering a suitable habitat for the furry reds as the island is isolated from the mainland, away from where grey squirrels are present.
Over the course of two years, 29 young squirrels that had been born in captivity at the Pensthorpe Wildlife Park in Norfolk and the British Wildlife Centre in Sussex, were brought to the island.
The red-furred arrivals were placed into three different release pens and gradually introduced into the Mersea countryside.
And today, Mersea Island is now home to an estimated one-hundred red squirrels, with litters known as kits appearing every spring and late summer, delighting residents with their bushy-tailed antics. To help their flurry neighbours thrive on the island, Mersea residents are encouraged to install feeders in their gardens and provide a fresh water supply.
Richard Taylor, red squirrel conservationist on the Mersea project suggests: “A supply of nuts like cobnuts and peanuts in shells is a good source of nutrition for the squirrels, ensuring the feeders are kept clean and regularly refreshed.”
“Providing water sources is also a great way to support the squirrel community, as long as there is an escape route for the animals to get out.”
As the red squirrel population on Mersea continues to grow, wildlife conservationists hope it will inspire many other communities in the UK to take similar actions to create environments dedicated to the conservation of endangered species.
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