Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Over past weeks of many conversations with a variety of squirrel-experts people scattered over the country, I’ve gleaned something of a history about the attempts that have been made to use mesh feeders in keeping grey squirrels from eating the reds’ nuts.
In the early days, the forestry commission experimented with mesh, but birds got away with most of the squirrel food, and young grey squirrels still got in and stole much of the rest. Trials were discontinued in the fear that the reds might catch the dreaded poxvirus from the greys sharing the feeder.
Nothing happened for a while. The fashion was for weighted feeders that tipped out greys. These tend to also allow in young small greys and the see-saw can become clogged with leaves and dirt.
Three years ago Veronica Carnell made use of her husband’s welding skills and her local squirrels at Gosforth Nature Reserve to find and produce a small quantity of mesh that just let reds squeeze through fairly comfortably. She has monitored 3 feeders for the past 3 years, red squirrels using them happily with a noticeably increased healthiness sort of look since the supplementary feeding was started.
A couple of years back she ran a study in some other areas; adult greys didn’t get into the feeder and reds used them in 2 out 3 sites.
However, lately the mesh has been trialed nearer to my home in the Lake District. Even when squirrels have become used to feeding in the mesh cubes with one side missing, once it is sealed off the reds have seemed nervous of sitting inside to eat the nuts, altho they have been seen to go inside. Greys have tried their best to squeeze through but with no success, but there’s not much point to a feeder that the reds won’t use!
I’ve heard two ideas from people that know their squirrels. Perhaps the fact that the red squirrels in question were rather knowledgeable about humans and houses and so forth meant that they had some experience of mesh type stuff and thought it was dodgy. Or perhaps they felt too exposed –I’ve heard tell that an older type of experimental feeder had a roof and was more happily used.
So lots of variables to confuse things in designing my project. So, the present day, or rather the future: Thursday will see me journeying to a spot where red squirrels are fed. I’ll be shown what’s going on, then hopefully will set up the first set of equipment. I don’t actually have it all yet but various interesting bits and pieces are arriving daily by post or being collected from far and wide.