If you go for a walk in Clocaenog Forest, Ruthin, you are sadly, unlikely to see one of the red squirrels
that reside there. The population is at an all-time low and it’s only through dedicated volunteers
checking trail cameras that we know whereabouts in the forest the reds persist.
There are now 35 trail cameras positioned within the 5,500hectare forest which are distributed in
four ‘blocks’. We have four trained volunteers who organise and lead groups of other volunteers to
check the cameras every 6 weeks.
There’s a bit of a routine that has transpired over the months which starts with the volunteers
meeting at 10am by the ‘Volunteer Shed’. Depending on the number of helpers cars will drive
convoy fashion to the relevant block. Now, it has been said on numerous occasions that one bit of
forest looks very much like another but with continued checks and an experienced leader, it soon
becomes second nature!
The cameras in the Alwen’s section have been there since 2014 when the Natural Resources Wales’
project ‘Mammals in a Sustainable Environment’, placed seven cameras with volunteer help. The
area was chosen following a red squirrel hair that was found in a hair tube trap on neighbouring Dwr
Red squirrels were soon picked up on the trail cameras and have been detected on a few occasions
since the Red Squirrels United (RSU) project took over in October 2016.
Of the other three ‘blocks’, reds have only been detected in the east of the forest with none showing
up in the blocks situated in the south or west. We had initial high hopes of capturing red squirrels in
the south since this was perhaps a hot spot for them when one looks at past records so it is
disappointing not to have detected them there yet.
A negative result doesn’t of course mean that red squirrels are not in the area. We do know that the
population is very low so the rate of detection via trail cameras will also be low. It could also be that
the red squirrels are using another part of the forest that is offering a better food source. We are
always considering other ways of using the trail cameras to offer the best results. In the future we
may flood one area with many cameras to increase the detection rate.
As you will see from the images that accompany this article, the majority of red squirrels that have
been captured on the camera are either on the tree trunk or sitting on top of the feeder box! We
have yet to capture a red making use of the bait inside. One theory is that the lids are perhaps too
heavy so we swapped them for thinner ply and we also tried propping the lids open but to no avail!
Other projects have advised that red squirrels take a long time to become accustomed to using
feeder boxes so we’ll have to remain patient.
We do of course have a slight complication with the presence of a pine marten that ventured up to
Clocaenog Forest following his release in mid Wales as part of the Vincent Wildlife Trusts Pine
Marten Reinforcement project.
‘Sid 03’ has made Clocaenog Forest his home since 2016 and continues to appear regularly on
cameras in all four blocks. One theory is that his scent is deterring the reds from coming to the
feeders and some further studies will be looking at this possibility. In the meantime volunteers are
experimenting with eggs and pine marten scat to try to lure Sid to one area of the forest in order the
red squirrels to come and go as they please to the feeders.
Since the RSU volunteers took over the camera monitoring in November 2016, there have been just
11 occurrences of reds visiting the feeder boxes. It can of course be disheartening for the volunteers
after so much effort is spent on this and other elements of the project, but the thought of finding
one of the few reds that are within the forest keeps them focussed. It’s always a great celebration
when one is found!
Project volunteers have a shared folder which is updated with the latest camera trap records as well
as photos. It’s great that they have taken ownership of this element of the project.
At our next scheduled meeting we will be discussing location of the cameras. Most have been in
place for over a year so it will be good to move things around. We’ll look at the forest coupe plans to
see where the reds are most likely to be foraging. The forest is 69% Sitka spruce which will only offer
a limited amount of energy rich seeds so the reds may be favouring the areas of Norway spruce and
Keep up to date with our findings on the RSTW Facebook page!
Contact Red Squirrel Ranger for Clocaenog Forest: Beckyredsquirrel@gmail.com
All photo credits to National Resource Wales.