Red Squirrels

27 July 2011 · 0 comments

in Nature Play & Learning

Several months ago, I was facilitating a training day for local rangers and environmental professionals who work with schools. As usual, there were lots of interesting people doing lots of interesting things. Among these, was Sophie Eastwood who had just started a job as a Red Squirrel Project Officer in Fife.

Ever since I was a child I have loved these furry mammals. About 18 months ago I blogged about them. I grew up in a part of Britain where red squirrels lived. When I was about nine years old, I remember visiting a friend of the family who had chanced upon an abandoned baby red squirrel and managed to rear it successfully. The squirrel, Squiggy, was quite at home running up and down the curtains and jumping from one to the other. Squiggy was carefully released back into the wild as soon as he was old enough to manage.

This grey playground may not look exciting but children have spotted red squirrels here!
There has been a continuous concern because the American grey squirrels, it’s bigger cousin, tends to foist red squirrels out of their habitats, intentionally or otherwise. This has been proven to have an economic as well as environmental impact. Thus all over the UK there are Red Squirrel Groups which aim to:

  • Raise the profile of red squirrels and red squirrel conservation
  • Survey and monitor red and grey squirrel populations
  • Work with schools to teach young people about red squirrels
  • Provide habitat management advice to land owners
  • Planting trees to create new habitat and reduce woodland fragmentation
  • Advocating targeted and responsible control of grey squirrels

The children asked a wildlife expert to help create a more red squirrel friendly area in their grounds
Sophie told me about why red squirrels interest her and very kindly gave me some advice about why children enjoy learning about squirrels…

“Although red squirrels are undeniably cute and fluffy that is not why I got interested in their conservation. At university I found the debate between the native red squirrel vs. the invasive non-native grey squirrel absolutely fascinating. I found myself delving into the subject to find out where my stance was and why, and now its my job to help other people be better informed too.

For teachers red squirrels are a fantastic way to start conservation or biodiversity topics. Many principles in conservation are the same and red squirrels are an assured attention grabber. Once that interest has been sparked a wider appreciation of conservation might follow.

The children wanted to put a special squirrel bridge from the tree canopy on one side of the road to the playground. However this wasn’t possible because of the lower level of the land and trees.

Biological recording of all species, common and rare is incredibly important. These underpin conservation efforts and help us know where species are threatened in the first place. Sightings and surveys (in and out of the classroom) can easily be done with children and you can submit these sightings to your local nature records centre. For squirrels in Scotland you can also use this Squirrel Sightings website

Get out there and show children what’s happening in nature! Whether its red squirrels or jelly ear fungus there is nothing like spotting the real thing for the first time, or the next time, or the next time…!”

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