Appy days for red squirrels

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Paul Levy from Livetech shows the app to Craig Shuttleworth.

 

Red squirrel lovers have gone nuts for a new app that’s helping to save the species.

Red Squirrels Trust Wales asked Llandudno-based digital experts Livetech to create the Squirrel Location Map to keep track of the loveable ruddy rodents.

The application, which can be used on iPhone, iPad and android devices, allows people to pinpoint where they’ve spotted the native red squirrels, which faced wipe-out from Britain before a huge conservation effort was launched on Anglesey two decades ago.

The success of the campaign is mostly down to a huge effort to control invasive grey squirrels, which were introduced to Britain from America in 1876 and carry a virus that’s fatal to its red cousin.

As a result, the number of grey squirrels grew to 2.5 million while the  red squirrel population fell to 120,000.

Now experts say the native reds are bouncing back – on Anglesey the population was down to as low as 40, but it’s now up to a healthy 700 and they’re even spreading across the Menai Strait to Bangor on the mainland..

The reversal of fortunes is down to the hard work of the Anglesey Red Squirrel Project and Red Squirrels Trust Wales.

Livetech managing director Paul Levy said: “The main feature of the app is to help people record squirrel sightings. If you spot a squirrel you can log on to the app and report it instantly.

“It allows people to engage with Red Squirrels Trust Wales, and to share and access information.

“People can log into the app and find out where the red squirrels are. The app is for iPhone and android. It has other features as well such as information about red squirrel conservation work and a news feed. It is also connected to the Red Squirrels Trust Wales twitter feed.

“The app focuses on North West Wales, but it could be easily rolled out to the rest of the UK.

“The app is fully integrated with the trust’s website which we also designed. This means that you only need to upload the information once for the app and the website to be updated.

“At Livetech we create a wide variety of apps and this one was definitely an interesting one to do.”

Dr Craig Shuttleworth, an ecologist, and director of Red Squirrels Trust Wales, explained why he asked Livetech to create the Squirrel Location Map.

He said: “Years ago people would write into us to say where they’d spotted a red squirrel. We’re now living in an age of social media where most people have smartphones.

“It’s another ways for people to connect and they can update the app instantly. The app designed by Livetech is very popular. It’s linked to our website and we also have a very popular Facebook page.

“The data collected through the app is very useful to us because it helps us keep track of where the red squirrels are going. We monitor distribution and abundance. If you go back 15 years hardly anybody saw a red squirrel on the island, but now people are spotting them more and more often.

“There are no grey squirrels on Anglesey now. The project started in 1998 and the trust was formed in 2007. At that time the project started there were only around 40 red squirrels on the island. Now there are over 700.

“Some have even crossed over to Gwynedd as well. The project has been a huge success. It’s pioneering and the model is being copied all over the UK, in places like Cornwall.

“The red squirrel would be extinct in North Wales had we not done something about it

“First we had to remove the grey squirrel population and then we had to reintroduce the reds which we got from Welsh Mountain Zoo in Colwyn Bay. We did eight introductions in all.

“The next big project is going to be in Gwynedd where we’ll be removing the greys and once we’ve done that we’ll be introducing reds.

“The Government will soon have an obligation to protect red squirrels under EU law.

“Grey squirrels are a problem because they ruin trees – they tear bark off in huge chunks so they die.

“The damage they cause has an economic as well as an environmental impact because it costs the timber industry millions of pounds. It costs £10 million every year. They also climb into the attics in people’s houses and chew through the wood so it’s a real problem.

“Now, things are looking better for our red squirrels and the new app created by Livetech is playing its part in creating a brighter future for them.”

For more information about Red Squirrels Trust Wales visit www.redsquirrels.info and for more information about Livetech visit www.livetech.co.uk or call 01492 581131.

A red squirrel at Newborough Forest.
A red squirrel at Newborough Forest.