‘Magical Mammals’ project to boost rare wildlife in north Wales

A new five-year project has been announced to help secure the future of two of our most beloved woodland species in north Wales.

The ‘Magical Mammals’ project has received £495,000 from National Lottery Heritage Fund funding to boost numbers of both red squirrel and pine marten. It will also provide opportunities for local people to get involved in vital conservation work with the aim of empowering them with skills and confidence to transform their community’s relationship with the natural world.

Red squirrels are threatened with extinction by the spread of the gray squirrel, a species introduced over 150 years ago from North America.

The gray squirrel spreads squirrelpox virus which kills native red squirrels and because the gray is a bigger animal it can out-compete red squirrels for food. Magical Mammals will release red squirrels into forests to increase the local population.

Anglesey already contains the largest and most genetically diverse red squirrel population in Wales and in 2009, the population began to spread into northern Gwynedd. Red squirrels have been recorded in and around the city of Bangor and also inland at Rydd Ddu, Bethesda and less frequently in the Conwy valley.

Magical Mammals project is also working with several Zoos which breed captive pine martens. These include Wildwood Trust (Kent), New Forest Nature Center (Southampton) and the Welsh Mountain Zoo (Colwyn Bay).

Pine martens are a small carnivore weighing 1.5-2.0 kg. They live in woodland habitats and have a wide diet including fruit, berries, small mammals and birds eggs.

In 2020, four pine martens were released near the city of Bangor to boost the regional population of this rare carnivore.

The project is a partnership between Red Squirrels Trust Wales (RSTW) and Clocaenog Red Squirrels Trust (CRST). The program is supported by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and will deliver key biodiversity targets of the Welsh Government.

The project will cover Anglesey, Gwynedd, Conwy and Denbighshire.

Nikki Robinson of Red Squirrels Trust Wales said: “North Wales contains the bulk of the Welsh red squirrel population and is home to small numbers of native pine martens. But they still need our help and support to thrive.

“Magical Mammals will expand existing populations and we are looking forward to working with social and community support organisations, providing fantastic opportunities for people to engage with the natural world.”

Julian Mason of Clocaenog Red Squirrel Trust said: “We’re a relatively new charity and the funding received as a result of National Lottery players will enable us to fulfill our ambition to release red squirrels into new areas, to support existing volunteers and to welcome new ones.”

Becky Clews-Roberts, Specialist Advisor Terrestrial Mammals at Natural Resources Wales, added: “NRW are looking forward to working in collaboration with RSTW and CRST on the Magical Mammals project and seeing a benefit to the populations of these two native mammals in north Wales. The project will enable sites where visitors can enjoy and learn about native wildlife with the aim of gaining a better understanding of the plight of these animals.”

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