Red Squirrels are hanging on on the the mainland. Photo by Max Westby
I saw the cover of BBC Wildlife magazine today which asks if conserving the Red Squirrel is a waste of money. I didn’t buy it because I’d assume it would say “no!” and pad out the story with photos of red squirrels looking cute. Flipping to BBC News today I see the answer is in fact “yes!” according to Prof. Harris of Bristol. He argues that greys are simply too good at getting round conservation efforts and that previous experience shows that efforts to curb the grey colonisation of the UK are ineffective.
The answer, he says, is to set up offshore islands as reserves. The Isle of Wight currently has a red squirrel population and other islands could be used. As he says this isn’t new. Currently New Zealand’s attempts to save the kakapo from extinction have resulted in the birds being relocated to Codfish Island and Chalky Island.
But Prof. Harris also points out that the red squirrel isn’t endangered globally. So do we need the reserves? What are they going to give us? If we lose red squirrels from the mainland is it going to matter that they’re still around on a remote Hebredeian island? The existence of red squirrels hundreds of miles away isn’t going to have much of an effect on the ecologies of the places where they’ve disappeared from. Do you take that as a spur to spend more money on conservation efforts on the mainland, despite the possibility of failure, fund offshore reserves so that the UK doesn’t lose red squirrels entirely, or spend the money on other battles instead?