There are two species of squirrel found in Ireland and the UK, the native red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) and the introduced eastern grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Red squirrels have been present in Ireland for thousands of years, but due to their dependence on woodland habitat the gradual and almost total deforestation of the country led to their decline and near extinction in the 17th century. Grey squirrels were introduced into Ireland in 1911 in Co. Longford, having originally come from the eastern states of the U.S.A. (hence its name), and has spread to many other parts of Ireland. Both red and grey squirrels depend on woodland habitat, in particular those that contain tree species that produce large seeds such as oak, beech, chestnut, hazel and scots pine.
The red squirrel is found to decline and then completely disappear in areas where the grey squirrel is found, as has happened in most parts of England and Wales. This is due to competition for resources and the squirrel pox virus which the grey squirrel carries and can spread to the red squirrel which has no natural immunity to the disease. For this reason, grey squirrels are a major threat to the future survival of the red squirrel in Ireland and the UK and it is classed as an invasive species. Grey squirrels are now present in most of Leinster and parts of Ulster and Munster, but they have not spread west of the Shannon thus far. Red squirrels are still present across many parts of the country, but have become locally extinct in many parts of the east where greys are present. For more information on squirrels, please read this account written by Colin Lawton.
Red squirrels are still common across Co. Waterford, but there are a few established populations of grey squirrels in the north and east of the county and there are reports that greys are slowly spreading from these areas. We are interested in identifying areas where grey squirrels have been sighted in Waterford to find out if they are becoming established there, and in pinpointing out their main routes of entry into the county. We hope that this will inform future efforts to prevent their spread and protect the red squirrel population here.
For a detailed history of the red squirrel in Ireland, check out this article at Ireland’s Wildlife.