Wight Squirrels - Red Squirrels on the Isle of Wight

Tree Felling

The Isle of Wight's woodland can provide habitat for around 3000 squirrels. Numbers fluctuate annually according to the success or failure of the autumn seed crop. They also fluctuate seasonally when young are born. Red squirrels on the Island live mainly in broadleaved woodland - which is unique nowadays as greys dominate this habitat on the mainland. The Island is also free of deer, which nibble young shoots and retard regrowth of understorey trees.

To keep woodland in good health and produce a good crop of seed, then sensitive, well planned management is actually beneficial, although it looks destructive. There are no deer wandering the Isle of Wight woods so hazel coppice regrowth is good. Sensitively managing a small woodland will actually improve on nature's design. For instance, hazel will not produce nuts if there is not enough light, so by producing more edge habitat the hazel will produce more food for red squirrels, mice and birds.

A wide age range of tree ages and diversity of tree species also provides more food for the animals dependent upon it. The more diverse the eco-system the healthier it will be.

Woods are more productive both for commercial use and wildlife if they are managed. But as with most scenarios there is a conflict. Forestry work is commercially driven and the market price of timber, economies of scale and profit are normally the priority rather than conservation. Also it is more commercially viable to clear or thin large tracts of plantation rather than small areas at a time which is disastrous for the squirrels if there is insufficient good habitat to move into or it disrupts arboreal corridors.

For red squirrels living without a direct threat of grey squirrel invasion, a good mixture of tree species with about 24 standard trees per hectare plus an understorey of predominantly hazel is ideal.

If the hazel is coppiced on a 15 year plus cycle, then so much the better. The problem is that this costs money as the hazel should be cut every 5-7 years for commercial use. This is too short a cycle for squirrels and other species such as dormice. Hazel starts fruiting, given the right conditions, about 5 years after coppicing but it must have plenty of light to produce a good crop of nuts. It's not just woods that provide food and habitat for red squirrels. Parks and gardens are also important. In these circumstances it is even more important nor to disrupt a corridor.





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