Over the last few decades Red squirrels have disappeared from most of english countryside. I grew up in Devon and as a kid remember my grandparents telling me about how they used to see them in the nearby woods… So where did they go?
The actual population decline likely comes down to a combination of reasons. A key factor is that Red squirrels can also contract Squirrel Pox from Greys who carry the virus but are not affected. This often proves fatal to Red squirrels, who are already weakened by competition for food, and so unable to build the same immunity.
Additionally the rapid deforestation and urbanisation of our countryside over the last century had undoubtedly taken a toll. Red squirrels naturally live at much lower population densities than their Grey cousins. This means that a greater area of woodland is needed to support the same number of individuals, this causes populations to suffer in smaller fragmented woodlands.
Hopefully it’s not all doom and gloom, as many on-going studies and conservation efforts aim to protect the remaining Red squirrel habitats. There are also opportunities to see them down south too! The Isle of Wight and Brownsea island in Poole harbour are quite fortunately separated from the mainland and so remain as island strongholds for our native Red squirrel.