RSST Launch, April 2009

RSST Patron, HRH The Prince of Wales, officially launched the charity at Levens Hall, Cumbria on Friday 3rd April 2009.

The Prince of Wales also announced the commencement of RSST’s Cumbria Red Squirrel County project which aims to turn the whole of Cumbria back into a red squirrel county over the next few years.

The event brought together red squirrel experts from around the UK to discuss the future of this endangered mammal. The conference, which was sponsored by Cumbria Tourism and Natural Economy Northwest (NENW), brought together speakers who highlighted the broad range of initiatives taking place around the UK to protect the red squirrel.

Dr Colin McInnes of Moredun Research Institute discussed research taking place to develop a vaccine for the squirrel poxvirus. Professor Andy Peters of Arpexas talked about the potential of immuno-contraception as a method to control grey squirrel populations. Dr Peter Lurz of Newcastle University explained how grey squirrels were introduced into the UK and the subsequent decline of the red. Jackie Foott, Cumbria Co-ordinator for Northern Red Squirrels (NRS), explained the work being undertaken by NRS in Cumbria and Northumberland. Andy Wiseman of Buccleuch Estates outlined the Red Squirrels in South Scotland (RSSS) project, which RSST supports. Joshua Perry, RSST Director, outlined RSST’s Cumbria Red Squirrel County project in partnership with NRS and how the project sits alongside other initatives. Charles Dutton, a chartered Forester, stressed the importance of sustainable woodland management in safeguarding red squirrel habitats. Dr Craig Shuttleworth, Project Director of the Friends of the Anglesey Red Squirrels and a scientific advisor to RSST, highlighted the importance of strong local community support by outlining the success experienced in Anglesey. Katie Read, Natural Tourism Manager of NENW, stressed the importance to the county of red squirrels, and natural tourism in general.

His Royal Highness delivered a passionate keynote speech on the plight of the red squirrel. Below is an extract of the speech:

“Today, I hope, will be the beginning of the co-ordinated fight-back on behalf of our precious and very British red squirrel, in the face of the relentless march across the country of the pernicious greys. If I may, I just want to give you a little background to the Red Squirrel Survival Trust which we are launching today and of which I am delighted to be the Patron.

For many years I have been deeply concerned about the plight of this utterly charming creature and, over the last 12months, I have been working with a number of the extraordinary individuals and organizations across the country who have been in the forefront of the battle to preserve the reds – and I am so pleased to see many of them here today, particularly Miles Barne, Craig Shuttleworth, and Carrie Nicholson. Last June I hosted a dinner at Clarence House to see if I could start the ball rolling for the Red Squirrel Survival Trust and the ball seems to have ended up here!

During this whole exercise, it became clear that these groups could be so much more effective and powerful if somehow they could be brought together under one umbrella – there is, I have always found, strength in numbers!

And so the Red Squirrel Survival Trust was born and that is what we are here to celebrate today with this seminar.

Unlike many people in this country I am very lucky to see red squirrels regularly in Scotland at Birkhall, where I have been indulging them with hazelnuts, and they are becoming remarkably tame. Sometimes when I am sitting at my desk, I hear the pitter patter of tiny feet and they run all the way round my office. They really are very special creatures. But of course one of the problems is that the reds are now so marginalized that very few people in this country have actually ever seen one. Many do not even realize that they are native to this country and that the greys are a totally alien species having been imported here just over one hundred years ago.

I am old enough now to remember while a child seeing red squirrels regularly on the Sandringham Estate in the 1960s and then they completely disappeared. Now, sadly, it is almost impossible to see them anywhere in the vast majority of England and Wales (with some notable exceptions, such as Anglesey and the Isle of Wight and of course good old Cumbria); while the remaining red population in Northern England and Scotland is under continued attack. That is why one of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust’s key tasks will be working tirelessly to communicate to the largest possible audience that the greys are, quite literally, driving the native reds to the verge of extinction, not only because they are larger and more aggressive, but because they spread the appalling squirrel pox, to which they are immune but from which the more vulnerable reds suffer dreadfully. At the same time and worst of all, the greys, which are far more populous than the reds, are destroying huge amounts of woodlands, particularly beech trees.

Any attempts to plant much needed native species, community woodlands for instance are being seriously compromised by disastrous damage caused by greys as I know all too well down in Gloucestershire where we have a real battle to protect the trees I have lovingly planted over the past 29 years.

But the news is by no means all bad. Thanks to the astonishing work of a number of people in this room the reds are, in some places, holding their own and in Anglesey, owing to some remarkable work by Dr Shuttleworth and others, they have been successfully re-introduced. But the terrifying reality is that within a decade, if we cannot work together to bring in the necessary funding for the task which needs to be done, the red squirrel could be extinct right across the United Kingdom. Now I, for one, am simply not prepared to let that happen and I hope that under the new banner of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust everyone who is fighting for the red and is determined to preserve it, will come together in order to reverse its decline. And if I may just state the blindingly obvious, grey squirrels don’t respect county borders or local authority areas. It is only by developing co-ordinated and integrated campaigns to eliminate the greys, that we will ensure a future for the reds. Personally, I cannot think of a better mascot for our country than the red squirrel – perhaps that just might make people realize what it is that they are about to lose… and unless we get our act together and fast we are about to lose an awful lot of other species too.”

For the full speech please click here for The Prince of Wales’ website.

If you would like a copy of the conference conclusions please click here.

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