Woodland management and tree selection guidance
The red squirrel is an arboreal mammal and around 70% of its active foraging time is spent in the woodland canopy. The bulk of the diet is obtained within the canopy (principally tree seed, fruits, flowers and buds) and it’s nests known as ‘dreys’ are also constructed there.
It is therefore unsurprising that the type of management carried out with woodland habitats will have a large bearing upon any resident red squirrel population.
On Anglesey, red squirrels are found in many broadleaved woodlands and also the two large conifer plantations – Newborough Forest and the Mynydd Llwydiarth (Pentreath) plantation. If red squirrels are to persist on the island, and indeed to thrive here, then the careful management of sites is critical.
Clear-felling and thinning of woodland stands
The first important point to make relating to any tree felling, is that it should not be carried out during the part of the red squirrel breeding season when young squirrels are in nests. This is typically from February through to early October.
The second key point is that individual woodland operations must be part of a clearly defined strategy to conserve red squirrels. This should cover thinning and replanting schedules and it is important that when choosing new young trees to plant that species are selected which when mature will provide favourable foraging habitat for red squirrels.
Thinning can benefit red squirrels providing it is carried out carefully. It is true that it can produce individual trees with deeper crowns and which yield larger seed crops. But it is equally the case that heavy thinning can fragment the canopy to such an extent that red squirrels find it difficult to move from tree to tree and so may not use the area.
Which tree species will benefit red squirrels?
The following tree species are particularly beneficial to red squirrels:
Broadleaved trees: Sweet chestnut, oak, hazel, European walnut, cherry, European beech, horse chestnut and lime.
Coniferous trees: Scots pine, European larch, yew, Serbian spruce, Macedonian pine, Norway spruce and Douglas fir.
The following tree spcies are not useful for red squirrels and should be used occasionally within planting mixes:
Broadleaved trees: birch, alder, willow and crab apple.
The Welsh Government have produced planting guidance for Anglesey which encourages the use of Sweetchestnut and other large seed size producing broadleaved and coniferous trees:
The Trust are more than happy to provide guidance and advice to woodland owners.