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Welcome: Winter 20202

Image by: B. Bickerton

How time has flown by this year. It has been a challenging time with lockdown making it difficult to meet up with usual contacts to discuss and progress red squirrel conservation efforts. I think we have all had our turn on Zoom and similar online video conferencing spaces, with varying quality of sound and experiences. It is just not the same as seeing all the familiar faces in person. Nevertheless, our work has continued to advance the red squirrel’s cause. Thanks to hard work in the preceding years to develop grant schemes and the helpful donations form supporters and funders we have been in a position to deploy the equivalent of seven full-time red squirrel rangers, dedicated to grey squirrel population management, across the North of England this year. Whilst we fill some of the gaps, it is important to remember that we are part of a much bigger picture and that 4/5’s of defence against the tide of greys is thanks to the dedication of hundreds of volunteers, who form the 30+ independent groups across the North. Keep up the good work everyone!

Image by: B. Bickerton

Au revoir to Bonnie

We are sad to say goodbye to Bonnie Sapsford this December, as she relocates to France with her partner before the end of the year. Bonnie has been the driving force behind the monitoring programme and regional data collation/management, to mention but a few. Mike Denbury will become full-time from January 2021 and take on some of the data management.


Elliot Lea, RSNE’s Harwood area ranger, will also be leaving us to join Durham Wildlife Trust’s water vole conservation and mink control project. Elliot has been with RSNE since 2012 and has recently benefited from great rewards in the Harwood/Ray area seeing reds gradually returning, after much effort in managing greys. Well done Elliot! You will be missed and we wish you every success in Durham.

Gary Jefferson, who has been working with RSNE for the last couple of years south of Rothbury, at Foresburn Gate, will be adding Elliot’s area to his patch. Gary has many years’ experience in countryside matters and is well known by locals due to his many years working for the fire service and volunteering with the local squirrel group. Welcome to the team Gary! Gary.jefferson@rsne.org.uk

Another addition to the team is Jon Abbott, or is really moving from contract work to part-time NWT/RSNE employee. Thanks to the Catch my Drift project at NWT’s East Chevington reserve, Lottery funding will enable Jon to work between Druridge Bay and A697 for the next two years. Effort by Jon over the last 18 months has already seen reds protected from a squirrelpox outbreak at East Chevington at the start of 2019, as 100’s of greys have been removed from the area. 

Kielder and Harwood Reds

Image by: H. Traut

We recently received a cash boost of £15,000 from Northumbrian Water’s Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS) Branch Out fund to enable the project team to continue protecting red squirrels in two key areas that overlap in a popular beauty spot in Northumberland. Around the Kielder Water and Forest Park area, knowledge of red squirrel populations is incomplete with the team knowing they are there, but the presence of greys squirrels in the area is giving some cause for concern. Earlier this year, support from Forestry England enabled RSNE’s local contract ranger to monitor and control 50 grey squirrels at Kielder Village and Falstone, either side of Kielder Water. It is very likely that some greys have slipped through the ‘net’ and are present along the 26 miles of water’s edge of the Lakeside Way. The INNS funding has arrived at the perfect time, as it will allow the team to protect local red squirrels on the Kielder shoreline, including the popular Waterside squirrel hide at Leaplish, where greys have been recently sighted, by deploying monitoring stations for six months. Such deployment will give a better understanding of the local situation and will allow the area’s ranger to respond rapidly to any grey sightings.

Northumbrian Water’s Conservation and Land Manager, Stuart Pudney, said: "It’s fantastic we can support the RSNE project to help protect the woodland habitat for the survival of red squirrels “.

In 2021, the funding from Northumbrian Water will also allow RSNE to join forces again with Forestry England and two private estates in the Harwood area to support the work of RSNE’s ranger. This follows an initial effort over 18 months in a 10km radius around Ray Estate, which is strategically important in protecting Harwood and Raylees ‘red squirrel reserves’ and its 5km ‘stronghold’ buffer. Over the past one-and-a-half years, progress has been made in managing grey squirrel numbers and the reds are slowly returning in the Harwood area thanks to local landowner collaboration and support from local land agent James Brown. We are hoping to involve and support more volunteers in both areas mentioned above, so please contact us if you can help.

Image by: H. Traut


In the West rangers Matt Stewart (North Lakes) has been busy around Whinlatter (Forestry England); Thirlmere (United Utilities) and Greystoke Forest (Tilhill) and Jack Edmondson (South Lakes) has been active between Grasmere and Grizedale, known as the G2G project, which includes the area between Coniston and Windermere (working with National Trust, FE, Edwin Thompson and Westmorland & Grasmere groups).

Grey numbers have been very high this year in most places, sometimes double that of last year, which may be due to the mild winter in 2019/20 and the bumper seed crops last autumn. The map illustrates where RSNE rangers and contractors have been busy (red areas are Red Squirrel Strongholds) but bear in mind there is much more work by local groups around and within these areas too, hence the encouraging red squirrel distribution on the second map (2018-2020 data).

© RSNE & Northern Red Squirrels


© RSNE & Northern Red Squirrels

© RSNE & Northern Red Squirrels

2021 Spring Monitoring Programme

Credit goes to the collective red range records (from conservation activities throughout the year) collected by Northern Red Squirrels volunteer groups, which does a great job in mapping indicative red presence. The monitoring programme is nevertheless invaluable, as it is the only systematic long-term evidence-base that substantiates our collective work. Without that we have no scientific basis for knowing/demonstrating that we are making a difference. How do we make delivering a programme of this scale possible, across the North of England?! By working together, alongside local NRS volunteer groups. How can you help? Volunteer with your local group! Early in the New Year we will together start the planning process and muster every volunteer, trail camera, feeder box and volunteer we can to make it happen. We will keep you posted.

RSNE Ranger Mobile app

As part of the process of streamlining data collation the project has migrated rangers and contractors onto a mobile platform for recording activity and detection data. The free multi-platform system (Android, iOS and web portal), Epicollect5, was developed by the Imperial College of London and can be tailored to a project’s needs. The RSNE team has been using the system since July, which allows rangers to collect data in the field and on the go, saving time spent on Excel spreadsheets and allowing for automated GPS location logging. Rangers also have the option to review their own results via the online portal (see example). Data is then downloaded at the end of each month and merged with the master database within a few steps. Cloned copies of the app has been made available to the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, National Trust Wallington and a couple of northeast volunteer groups. Feel free to contact us if a cloned copy of the app would be of interest.

Mammal Mapper app

RSNE teamed up with The Mammal Society and put in place a data sharing agreement to provide a mobile solution for the public to submit squirrel sightings via their intuitive mobile Mammal Mapper app (available on both Android and iOS). This will complement sightings submitted via RSNE’s website and the monthly red sightings map that we share with volunteer groups. If you would like to find out more about the app, please have a look at www.mammal.org.uk/volunteering/mammal-mapper.

Volunteer Training

With social distancing we have not been able to run our normal trap training event this year. However, it has encouraged us to look at alternatives, such as a virtual classes, and it has prompted us to explore accreditation from an external professional body. Working with British Red Squirrel, we’ve been in touch with colleagues in Ireland (who have a Lantra accredited trap training course, much similar to RSNE’s), had a chat with Scottish colleagues (SSRS/SWT) and caught up with a few others to gather some thoughts. We will strive to update the trap training course content over the coming weeks, in collaboration with as many veteran volunteers as we can, with the aim to formulate content, ready for accreditation. This could fit well with the Lantra accredited grey squirrel control air-rifle course run in Longtown (contact Julie if you are interested in this course).


If you missed our virtual talk during Red Squirrel Awareness Week (21-27 Sep 2020) you can catch up via this link. It runs for about 24 minutes and covers red squirrel conservation and the collective effort in the north. There were also interesting content published by the UK Squirrel Accord during this week, covering grey squirrel tree damage and updates from other parts of the UK – the link can be found here.

Useful links

Some useful links for conservation your toolbox:

www.remotisystems.com - these are battery operated devices that notify the user when a trap door has closed, thus helpful for animal welfare. Cost is about £45/year for one device. It has proven to work well in Kielder where mobile signal is low. The website has helpful advice pertaining to the legal side of using these devices.

www.pass.co.uk - supply thermal imaging devices which are great for surveying squirrels in the winter months. Our thanks goes to PASS for their advice and discount on our HikVission thermal device (now working hard around Kielder) – see image example.

Also check out Amazon for Victure mini trail cameras for around £35 (+ batteries and mini SD card totalling £50).

www.albi-traps.com/live-catch-squirrel-traps - good quality trap supplier.

In closing

We wish you a very restful festive season and a happy New Year and look forward to catching up again soon.

Heinz Traut
RSNE Project Manager