September 25, 2023

Tree felling warning over rare red squirrel spot

Red squirrel feeding on a nut, close to camera, in the woodlands of Wales

Red squirrels are only found in a handful of locations in Wales after being nearly wiped out by a virus

The agency responsible for the environment has been accused of threatening one of the last remaining red squirrel sites in part of North Wales.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is planning to clear trees in what conservationists say is one of the few places now home to native squirrels in Gwynedd.

However, the agency has maintained that the work is necessary for public safety reasons and to prevent disease in larch trees.

The Red Squirrel Trust Wales has called for more conservation measures at the site near Bangor.

The trust has petitioned the Senedd expressing concern over proposals to cut trees in Parc y Bwlch.

The forestry is located on a hill called Moel y Ci, between Bangor and Bethesda.

The squirrel trust has confirmed sightings of the animals on camera and said surveillance should be put in place.

Red squirrel in nest box at Parc y Bwlch in May 2022

This red squirrel was captured on camera in Parc y Bwlch in May 2022

Red squirrel populations have slowly started to recover in Gwynedd, following their move from Anglesey, where a project to encourage them has been running for more than two decades.

But according to dr. Craig Shuttleworth, the Squirrel Fund’s lead expert, outbreaks of the squirrel pox virus have devastated mainland numbers.

The virus is spread by non-native gray squirrels and, while harmless to them, is deadly to their red cousins.

Key picture of Dr. Craig Shuttleworth, outside, in a pale plaid shirt, with hills and greenery in the background

Dr. Craig Shuttleworth wants action taken to ensure red squirrels can thrive in the area

“Two years ago it almost wiped out all red squirrels. That’s a huge loss for Gwynedd,” said Dr Shuttleworth.

“All we have left are these small populations of red squirrels and NRW are not monitoring.

“They sort of expect us to continue to protect red squirrels as they continue to cut down without any conscience about what the impact would be on our project and on this really rare species.”

Mature woodland at Parc y Bwlch forestry on Moel y Ci near Bangor, Gwynedd

Tree felling in Parc y Bwlch is expected to start in 2024

According to the proposals in Parc y Bwlch, about a quarter of the trees would be cut down from 2024.

The squirrel fund said monitoring is needed to better understand the population in forestry, and more discussions are needed on how to protect the squirrels there.

NRW officials have fulfilled the confidence, but Dr. Shuttleworth said he felt their advice was not being heard.

“I think the answer is to move forward with a precautionary approach,” he said.

“Start listening to the red squirrel project, who have been working in North Wales for 25 years.

“We understand the situation with red squirrels better than anyone. Work together — and be prepared to change your plans if someone can give you a compelling reason, an environmental reason, why your plans need to be changed.”

Dylan Williams, of Natural Resources Wales, stands outside with offices in the background

Dylan Williams of Natural Resources Wales says the logging work is important to the site

NRW said the work in Parc y Bwlch was agreed after consultation two years ago.

“This work is very important here, to build a resilient forest that is sustainable and good for all the wildlife we ​​have there,” said Dylan Williams, the land and asset manager for NRW in North West Wales .

“The forest itself is very mature in parts and the trees are starting to become unsafe.

“Here too, a large part of the forest consists of larch, which is affected by the larch disease.

“It’s important that we cut down these trees and replace them with better species for all types of wildlife.”

NRW officials said they are serious about squirrel conservation at the site.

“We adhere to all of our guidelines and best practices here,” said Mr. Williams.

“We treat this forest as if it were a known red squirrel forest.”

The NRW said it wanted to work with the squirrel foundation “to get the best result”.

Having been raised in the Senedd’s petition committee last month, the issue is now likely to be discussed as part of a wider debate on squirrel conservation in North Wales.

It follows other petitions calling for the development of a vaccine against squirrel pox, with a debate expected to be held in the Welsh Parliament in the autumn.

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