Squirrel group faces funds crisis

Date: Wednesday 11th July 2018

A PROTECTION group fighting to maintain the red squirrel population in and around Penrith is facing a funding crisis, after several of the grants streams which supported it came to an end.

The Penrith and District Red Squirrel Group has lost about £60,000, which equates to half of its annual budget, in recent years and is now turning to the local population in the hope that people will become members, in order to save a species native to their local area.

Chairman Robert Benson said that if the funding target cannot be reached, the group is going to have to consider cutting the hours of the six self-employed squirrel rangers it contracts, who he says already work far more hours than the group pays them for.

The red squirrel group was formed about 30 years ago and works to protect the red squirrels by culling any sighted greys from the vicinity, as they not only outcompete the smaller, weaker reds for food, but also carry squirrel pox, which is deadly to the red population.

While scientists are working on ways to introduce an immuno contraceptive to curb the spread of the greys, this is probably five to 10 years away from being introduced, and until then, culling greys is the only way at present to protect the reds, which have died out in many other parts of the country.

Mr Benson said: “I think we can justifiably say that if it weren’t for the work we have done, there would be no red squirrels left in this part of Cumbria.”

He is hoping that this fact will inspire new members to join the group, whether that be purely as funders, who want to receive the twice yearly newsletter to keep abreast of the situation, or as more involved members to take an active part in the work of the group.

Memberships are available by donation starting at £20 a year, but Mr Benson hopes the funding crisis will inspire people to make a more sizeable contribution of £10 a month, in order to play a part in the protection of a species.

He also urged businesses to consider sponsoring the group and asked tourism organisations particularly to consider the benefit these creatures have on their business, in the way that Center Parcs has embraced the draw they have to their holiday village on the outskirts of Penrith. He said: “When Center Parcs first came to Penrith, we made it a clause in their lease that they must contribute to squirrel conservation. Little did I dream that they would one day employ their own full-time squirrel conservation officer.”

Anyone who would like to learn more about the group can attend the annual meeting at Penrith Rugby Club on 16th July at 7pm, at which Ian Jack will be giving a talk about squirrels and forestry, entitled Seed to Saw, and Bill Pettigrew will speak about red squirrel protection in general.

Or visit the group’s website at penrithredsquirrels.org.uk for information about joining.