Wight Squirrel Project was founded in 1993 by Helen Butler, and the charity is run by volunteers under the guidance of Helen who also processes all data received.
In 2012 Project Manager, Helen Butler, was awarded the ‘Special Award’ by The Red Squirrel Survival Trust ‘in ‘recognition of outstanding service to red squirrel conservation in the United Kingdom.’ In 2013 she received an MBE for services to red squirrels on the Isle of Wight.
An all island survey of woodland over one hectare was carried out by Helen in the autumn of 2016 – see the report here.
Helen performs post mortem examinations on dead squirrels found on the Island. This part of the project has been able to add to scientific knowledge and a number of papers have been published with help from Cornwall vet Vic Simpson and Moredun Research Institute, to mention a few.
Leprosy was first diagnosed in red squirrels on the Isle of Wight in 2015. Scientists believe they have been infected with the disfiguring disease for centuries, but pose little risk to humans today.
Helen Butler, Wight Squirrel Project founder and project manager, worked at at Moredun research institute in Scotland this year to see how prevalent squirrel leprosy is in red squirrels on the Isle of Wight.
She used tissue samples from squirrels sent to her for post mortem examination and data collected from 'citizen scientists' in the study.
Deaths due to natural or unknown causes accounted for 33% of cases and 67% were as a direct result of human activity, especially road traffic.
None of the squirrels showed signs of leprosy but it is known that the infection may be present without signs. Helen took the samples to Moredun Research Institute and, after training, tested them for leprosy.
Helen says she is grateful for the opportunity to work at such a renowned research institute and thanks Karen Stevenson and Joyce McLuckie for all the help they gave in the month she was a visiting worker.
The study was funded by Wight Squirrel Project and the Scottish Government Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division.
Only one out of the 92 samples proved positive. The affected squirrel was an adult male that was a road traffic accident in 2016. Detailed post-mortem examination had not been possible as the squirrel was too badly damaged, however, there were no visible signs of leprosy. In the past we have had two confirmed cases of leprosy in squirrels on the Isle of Wight, one had died in 2004 and the second in 2011.
The infection is at a very low level in the population and has almost certainly been present on the island for many years.
Annual newsletters are sent out to ‘Friends of the red squirrel’ and distributed around the Island. Download the pdf here ...
The easiest and most efficient way to offer financial help is to become a Friend of the Red Squirrel and set up a standing order with a donation.
We also need volunteers to help us with walks, events and delivering newsletters. Please contact us if you can help.
Feeding red squirrels helps their survival and provides hours of entertainment for you.
They need a variety of food, not just peanuts. Hazelnuts, filberts, pine nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, coconut and fruit will provide a varied and healthier diet. NEVER feed brazil nuts or fatballs!
Peak activity times are dawn and dusk all year. Squirrels react to sound and movement, so stand still and keep quiet.
Where gardens back onto woods, squirrels are often fed and can be spotted as they travel to and from the garden.