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Protecting the red squirrel

Jerry Moss highlights the daily battle that rangers in Cumbria have to wage against the insurgent grey squirrel and the excellent work their charity does

red squirrel box

The group erects special red squirrel boxes to aid breeding

I’m Jerry Moss and I have been a red squirrel ranger for 14 years. My responsibilities involve conserving and protecting the UK’s only native squirrel, especially from the threat of the alien grey. I am also a trustee of the Penrith & District Red Squirrel Group (P&DRSG), a charity committed to maintaining red squirrels in their natural environment in the Penrith area and preventing their extinction in the wild.

Protecting the red squirrel, a celebrated and genetically unique creature, is a demanding but rewarding job. I am pleased to say that we are making a huge difference to the survival of the reds in our area, which encompasses 650 square miles of the Eden Valley in Cumbria.

Penrith red squirrel group

Community action

P&DRSG is a non-funded, community group set up more than 30 years ago. It is led and managed by a volunteer team of trustees, with the day-to-day management carried out by a paid administrator. It has a membership scheme and the success of its work to date could not have been achieved without the support of its members and other donors.

  • The group has five dedicated rangers, each deployed to manage an area and promote red squirrel conservation.
  • A significant part of our role is managing the threat to reds from the invasive grey squirrel. To this end, we carry out proactive grey squirrel control with the help of our volunteers.
  • The greys are an introduced species, which not only out-compete the native reds for food and habitat but are also hosts of the Squirrel Pox Virus, which is fatal to the reds.
  • Wherever there are greys they wreak havoc.
    shooting grey squirrels

    Shooting is one of the legitimate ways of controlling greys

  • Greys cause major economic, social and environmental damage to trees, they predate bird eggs, eat fledglings and adults and are also known to raid the nests of dormice – and eat them, too. Houses, sheds and outbuildings often have problems with grey squirrels as they tear up insulation and chew through roof timbers, electrical cables and pipes.
  • We manage grey squirrels methodically and systematically using a combination of trapping and shooting, the only legal methods of grey squirrel control.
  • Human intervention using these methods is all that works to save red squirrels.
    red squirrel feeder

    Jerry tops up one of the group’s feeders


  • Our equipment list also includes the invaluable use of trail cameras, feeders and thermal imaging, all of which help us to do our jobs efficiently.
  • Our front-line activities are recorded, as are those of our supporting teams. It is the evidence we need to demonstrate 
our successful effect.
Penrith Red Squirrels group

Spreading the word is all part of the job

Testing terrain

The role of a red squirrel ranger brings many challenges, not least with the terrain. We often find ourselves trekking through woodlands or along crag sides, in all weathers. And this is only part of the role. There is so much more to the job beyond the fieldwork. Behind the scenes we are following protocols, health and safety, access, permissions, licensing, analysis of monitoring, paperwork, fundraising, attending events, correspondence, problem solving, community work. It is certainly not a nine-to-five job with weekends off. It’s all hours and most days. For the rangers though, their work is their passion. We put in many unpaid hours and always go that extra mile in our mission to save the red.

red squirrel box

The group erects special red squirrel boxes to aid breeding

You can help Penrith Red Squirrels continue our successful work by becoming a subscribing member.

I cannot stress enough that what we do for red squirrel conservation works. Red squirrels continue to reside in our area and we celebrate this. Without the ‘boots on the ground’ of the rangers and proactive management to help to maintain the red squirrel population here, the greys would continue to make inroads and increase their numbers. I can say with confidence that if this happened, within two years red squirrels would be displaced by the insurgent greys. This would be a distressing outcome and deprive future generations of the privilege of seeing reds in their natural environment.