Trapping update

It’s been a while since our last blog and we’ve been busy! Since getting our red squirrel handling licence last year, we have trapped at five sites, revisited one, and just set up at location 6. We have a huge area yet to cover, but (rather sensibly) the red squirrels tend to hunker down over the winter and trapping becomes much harder, so we’re just back into peak trapping season now.

a "paint" style diagram showing a red squirrels tail. at the top it says "belly up". the tail is divided into 7 sections (starting close to the bum on the left and working anti-clockwise around to 7.

the tail markings map we developed.

Last year, we started out at our best site- the only location where we have feeders in mid-Wales (for why this is- look out for a blog on this soon!). This means we have a good number of red squirrels used to visiting these locations looking for food. We removed the feeders from the trees, and replaced them with Phil’s specially constructed tree traps. These are similar to traditional squirrel traps, but have a wooden base and box at the back, giving any captured animals somewhere to shelter from the elements. We filled up the back of the boxes with bait, and within a few hours, we had trapped a squirrel. BC01 as we designated him, was a large healthy male. That day, we caught five squirrels. Two females and three males. We collected a DNA sample from each squirrel, and each was marked with a unique tail marking- like a dodgy hair cut.

a photo of a pale blonde red squirrels tail. on one side of the tail some fur has been cut away leaving a "notch" shaped gap.

a dodgey hair cut with some kitchen scissors- but an identifiable mark left on this individual

These tail marks allow us to quickly identify squirrels who we’ve already caught, and release them without duplicating our records. We revisited our first site recently, around 7 months later, and we were able to re-identify several individuals by their tail marks.

a red squirrels tail is against some plastic on the ground. some scissors lie nearby. the tail has had some fur cut away near the end on its left hand side.

BC04 was first caught in May 2021 and given tail mark 5

a red squirrel in a handling cone is held by someone in a high viz orange coat. they are wearing gloves and holding out its tail showing some fur is missing from the end of its tail on its left hand side.

BC04 in February 2022, still showing tail mark 5

An interesting thing to happen, which we’re waiting for confirmation regarding, was an individual we trapped recently in southern Cwm Berwyn, which appeared to have tail mark 1. We had only used this on one individual, but that was up above Strata Florida. As the crow flies, nearly 7 miles away.. but more realistically, the shortest route sticking to decent tree cover would be over 8 miles, including a gap of about a mile and a half with very little cover at all. To confirm if this is the same individual, we took hair samples just in case, which are with Swansea University for analysis as we speak.

So far, we have trapped (we think) 17 individuals. We know there are more out there, but we’ve still got some good sites to hit, and some big areas to survey in the hopes of finding some more good locations.