Red squirrels in action at The Raven
WILDLIFE photographer John Holden took a week out of work to spend time in the Raven woods near Curracloe where he took these amazing pictures of red squirrels.
'We have a hugely important and protected population of Reds at The Raven, the fact that we also have Pine Martens means that the invasive American Grey Squirrel is kept at bay to a large extent,' John told this newspaper.
The Grey Squirrel was introduced to Europe from the USA, from the mid 19th Century, to populate the great parks and grand estates of England and Ireland. It is widely held that Lord Longford introduced the Grey Squirrel to Ireland in 1911.
The Grey is a direct threat to the Red in terms of food competition, with the Greys being roughly twice the size of the Red, but their biggest threat to the Red Squirrel is as carriers of the Parapoxvirus, or Squirrel Pox as it's generally known. The Grey carries the virus but it doesn't kill them, but it wipes out Red Squirrels in alarming numbers.
John said the Pine Marten has a very important part to play in this story.
'Pine Martens and Red Squirrels evolved together in Europe and while Pine Martens do prey on Red Squirrels, they have not been shown to affect population decline. They are natural members of the same ecosystem and live in ecological harmony,' he said.
The Red Squirrel has evolved to leap from tree to tree, and the Pine Marten can't follow. The Grey Squirrel hasn't evolved this behaviour and as a result is easier prey for the Pine Marten.
Numerous studies have shown that where Pine Martens begin to thrive again, the Grey Squirrel population declines quickly and the Red Squirrel population rises to replace them. in other words, more Pine Martens means more Red Squirrels and less Grey Squirrels. 'Happily we have Pine Martens at The Raven Forest and a healthy population of Red Squirrels, with slightly more than 300 animals present,' said John.
More of John's great wildlife pictures can be seen at his Wild about Wexford Facebook page. Go to www.facebook.com/WildAboutWexford