Squirrels


Our native red squirrels colonised Ireland after the last ice age, around 10,000 years ago. Grey squirrels are native to North America and were introduced to this island in 1911. Contrary to popular belief, greys are not responsible for the disappearance of the reds from some areas, although they do compete for food. It was the removal of the ancient forests that caused the red squirrel to become extinct in Ireland. It was reintroduced around 200 years ago but it has struggled to establish itself in a relatively unsuitable habitat. One of the biggest problems for red squirrels (and other wildlife) is that Ireland has the lowest tree cover (6%) in Europe.

The red squirrel is found throughout the woodlands of Ireland. Their habitat is predominantly coniferous woodlands; however, they can live in mixed deciduous and coniferous forests, parks and gardens if there is a sufficient food source. Their diet consists mainly of seeds, such as acorns, spine and spruce seeds, berries and fruits. In Ireland, red squirrels are widespread and common in many areas, but, they are rare or extinct in Meath, Westmeath, Carlow, Louth and Kilkenny.

Squirrels build nest, called dreys, from sticks and foliage in the hollows of old trees and against tree trunks. Each squirrel usually builds more than one drey and may use dreys of other red squirrels in the area. In winter, they do not hibernate but make quick trips to their hoards of seeds which they have collected in autumn and may spend several days in their drey during periods of severe weather.

Red Squirrels can live up to 6 years old in the wild; although, the average in Ireland is 3 years. Mating starts in January or February with a gestation period of 40 days and an average of three kittens per litter. The young are then weaned from 7 to 10 weeks before becoming totally independent, thus in years of ample food, female squirrels may produce a second litter. The offspring of this second will usually stay with the mother throughout winter as sources of food become low.

The grey squirrel has the competitive advantage of spending more time at ground level than the red squirrel. This means that grey squirrels are likely to find red squirrels food stores, resulting in starvation of the red squirrel. The grey squirrel also has the advantage of being able to eat unripe seeds which the red squirrel cannot digest.
In areas of deciduous or mixed woodland it has been found that red squirrels will disappear within 20 years of the introduction of grey squirrels. However, coniferous forests do not provide enough food for the larger grey squirrel and thus populations of red squirrels are unaltered in these areas.


Red Squirrel Crimes

The Red Squirrel is protected by law in the Republic of Ireland under the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2012 and is listed in the Bern Convention (Appendix III) as a species requiring protection.

Globally it is not afforded further protection as it is a species of least concern in countries which have a healthy population. This may change over time as the presence of greys squirrels in Italy may spread into other European countries.

Unless authorised to do so under a valid licence or permission granted by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht under the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2012 it is unlawful to:-

  • Hunt, kill or injure a red squirrel
  • Wilfully interfere with or destroy the breeding or resting place of a red squirrel)
  • Be in possession of a red squirrel, whether alive or dead, or any part, product or derivative thereof other than one lawfully taken pursuant to the Wildlife Acts
  • Sell, keep or offer for sale, or engage in taxidermy in respect of a red squirrel or any parts, products or derivative thereof, other than by a licensed wildlife dealer with a lawfully acquired specimen

Grey Squirrel Crimes

The Grey Squirrel is not a protected species under the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2012, which basically means that you can hunt and kill it without having to apply for a licence or permission to do so.

The Wildlife Acts do however make provisions that wild animals and wild mammals (which includes the grey squirrel) may not be hunted by various means.

Accordingly the following provision of the Wildlife Acts makes it unlawful to:

  • Hunt a grey squirrel by means of a trap, snare or net unless they stand approved for the purposes of this section by virtue of regulations under this section (see Wildlife Act 1976 (Approved Traps, Snares and Nets) Regulations 2003)
  • Hunt a grey squirrel by means of any poisonous, poisoned or stupefying bait
  • Enter on any land with a firearm or other hunting equipment for the purpose of hunting or trapping a grey squirrel without the permission of the owner or the occupier or some other person entitled to enjoy sporting rights over the land

Issues of cruelty to animals (including grey squirrels) are dealt with in the provisions of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013:
Section 12

  • Makes it an offence to – (a) do, or fail to do, anything or cause or permit anything to be done to an animal that causes unnecessary suffering to, or endangers the health and welfare of an animal, or (b) neglect, or be reckless, regarding the health and welfare of an animal

In this Act “Unnecessary Suffering” means, in relation an animal, pain, distress or suffering (whether physical or mental) that in its kind or degree, or in its object, or in the circumstances in which it occurs, is unreasonable or unnecessar

INJURED SQUIRRELS
Sick or injured red squirrel may be kept captive for a period of recuperation once granted a licence from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and subsequently released back into the wild.

Sick or injured grey squirrels may be captured for treatment and recuperation, as it is not a protected species, a licence from the National Parks and Wildlife Service is not required, however, GREY squirrels cannot subsequently be released back into the wild as they are classed as an invasive species.

RELEASE OF GREY SQUIRRELS
Grey squirrels are thought to be carriers of the squirrel pox virus which is almost always fatal to red squirrels but is not usually fatal to grey squirrels. It can be identified by lesions to the face and hands, resulting in the squirrel going blind and dying within a few weeks of infection. To combat the decline in population of red squirrels in areas containing greys the capture and cull of grey squirrels is sometimes carried out by trained personnel using approved traps. It is illegal to release trapped grey squirrels back into the wild. Permits to release grey squirrels may be issued for a specific purpose by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.


Recording evidence at the Crime Scene

Assessing whether a criminal offence has taken place may not always be straight forward and other possibilities such as natural deaths, predation and legal hunting should be considered.

If you come across a wildlife crime scene or a dead bird or object that may be related to a wildlife crime, every piece of information is – or might be – important, but it needs to be recorded properly and accurately for the authorities to have a chance of prosecuting an offender.


Reporting a RED squirrel crime

To report suspected illegal red squirrel activity contact the National Parks & Wildlife Service
Tel: 01-888 3242 or LoCall 1890 383 000

For a pdf of contact numbers for your local NPWS Conservation Ranger click HERE

If you can’t reach NPWS personnel call An Garda Síochána:

If the crime is in progress or about to happen, or if the offender is still at the scene or has just left call 999 or 112
If the event is finished then either call your local Garda Station (Garda Stations Directory) or the Garda Confidential Telephone Number 1800 666 111

Reporting a GREY squirrel crime

To report suspected illegal grey squirrel activity contact An Garda Síochána:

If the crime is in progress or about to happen, or if the offender is still at the scene or has just left call 999 or 112

If the event is finished then either call your local Garda Station (Garda Stations Directory) or the Garda Confidential Telephone Number 1800 666 111

If you suspect the illegal grey squirrel activity is a breach of the Wildlife Act contact National Parks & Wildlife Service
Tel: 01-888 3242 or LoCall 1890 383 000

For a pdf of contact numbers for your local NPWS Conservation Ranger click HERE

[Although it will assist the NPWS and Gardaí if you provide as much information as possible, you do not have to give your name if you ring to report an incident.]

If the squirrel is alive and is injured, also, call a wildlife rehabilitator/vet from the contacts page of Irish Wildlife Matters Irish Wildlife Matters
If you witness any crime involving a squirrel, also contact Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA)

For more information on reporting a crime click HERE