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Fears deadly squirrel pox is back in Formby

Fears deadly squirrel pox is back in Formby

by Danielle Thompson (June 2021)

FORMBY residents who live by the red squirrel reserve, along with visitors to the Pinewoods, are being urged to report any sightings of dead red squirrels amid fears squirrel pox could be back in the area.

A spokesperson for the Merseyside and Lancashire Red Squirrel Project told the Champion this week: “Unfortunately, we’ve had a number of reports of red squirrels displaying symptoms of squirrel pox in the pinewoods of National Trust Formby and in gardens on Victoria Road.

“Squirrel pox is carried by grey squirrels but they do not suffer from any symptoms. However, it is fatal to red squirrels who will develop lesions around the eyes, mouth and on the paws and will usually die within a couple of weeks.

“It only takes one grey squirrel to introduce pox into a red squirrel population, but it is then transmitted readily between red squirrels.

“Four dead reds displaying symptoms have been collected. We are awaiting tests to confirm the disease.

“If you live in the area, you should remove any feeders you have out to reduce the spread of the disease.

“Please report any sightings of sick/dead red squirrels or grey squirrels to Lancashire Wildlife Trust on 07590745862 (text or call) or red.squirrel@lancswt.org.uk.

Squirrel pox is a deadly disease that was introduced in the nineteenth century when the Victorians brought North American grey squirrels to Britain.

In 2008, a devastating outbreak of squirrel pox wiped out 80% of the red squirrel population in North Merseyside and West Lancashire.

Since then, through a partnership between the National Trust, the Lancashire Wildlife Trust and others, the area’s red squirrels have nearly recovered to their pre-outbreak numbers. However, red squirrels are still an endangered species and require constant monitoring.

While visitors could feed squirrels in the past, Rangers found that this encouraged the squirrels to come into more contact with each other, increasing the risk of spreading infection. Squirrels are also susceptible to diseases caused by bacteria humans carry on our skin.

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