Slow down: give our red squirrels a ‘brake’

Members of Ards Red Squirrel Group appeal to motorists to 'slow down and save our red squirrels' as they launch a new sign for homeowners across Northern Ireland to display on their bins, to highlight the danger of speeding traffic to red squirrels. To obtain a bin sticker email squirrels@doeni.gov.uk or contact your local Red Squirrel Group. (c) Jon Lees
Members of Ards Red Squirrel Group appeal to motorists to 'slow down and save our red squirrels' as they launch a new sign for homeowners across Northern Ireland to display on their bins, to highlight the danger of speeding traffic to red squirrels. To obtain a bin sticker email squirrels@doeni.gov.uk or contact your local Red Squirrel Group. (c) Jon Lees

The Northern Ireland Squirrel Forum (NISF) in partnership with Red Squirrel Groups across Northern Ireland is appealing to motorists to “slow your speed, save our red squirrels,” with new warning signs now available for homeowners to display on their bins to highlight the danger of speeding traffic.

Red squirrels are one of Ireland’s most iconic, native mammals, but sadly they are under severe threat, as increasing numbers of invasive grey squirrels compete for habitat and food, and transmit a deadly disease. But many red squirrels are also killed by motorists, as they are now confined to small isolated patches of woodland.

Working within the local community, Northern Ireland’s local squirrel groups have identified several ‘accident black spots’ which still hold strong red squirrel populations and together with members of the NISF, including Ulster Wildlife, they devised this cost effective idea that exploits the weekly bin collection.

Daniel McAfee Chair of the Glens Red Squirrel Group said: “I was sitting at traffic lights and I noticed the bins at the end of the drives and wondered if we could use the space to catch the driver’s eye. Permanent signs are not permitted, but wheelie bins are being set on road edges at least once a week. Too many of Northern Ireland’s red squirrels are victims of speeding cars. This loss stops the reds spreading out from our strongholds and starting new populations in neighbouring woodland. But if motorists slow down, they will have a fighting chance.”

Local residents can use the bin as a mobile sign board warning drivers that red squirrels are crossing the roads in the area. The group hopes they will make drivers slow down for squirrels, so that ‘tufty’ gets across the road safely.

Rose Cremin, Chair of the Fermanagh Red Squirrel Group said: “Through our volunteer network, we have become aware of a number of roads in the county where reds are regularly falling victim to road kill as they move across the landscape between forests. We hope that these new signs will remind drivers to be mindful that the red squirrels and other wildlife need to travel across the countryside too and to adjust their speed accordingly when driving through forested areas.”

The bin stickers were produced with funding support from the NGO Challenge Fund and are available to homeowners who live in parts of Northern Ireland where red squirrels are present. To obtain a sticker, contact your local red squirrel group or email squirrels@doeni.gov.uk

If you see either red and grey squirrels or pine martens in your area, please record your sightings online at www2.habitas.org.uk/records/squirrels

Roads which have been identified as significant problems for red squirrels:

· County Down: The Portaferry Road at Mount Stewart has seen eight dead reds in the last couple of years. The Mount Stewart road, Newtownards has also seen a number of casualties.

· South Down: Hilltown road near Tollymore Mountain Centre, Hilltown Road, Moneyscalp Road, Ballagh Road, Bryansford Road, Trassey Road and Ballagh Road. Killowen and Newry Roads near Rostrevor.

· County Tyrone: Altadaven Road, Augher, BT77.

· County Fermanagh: Glenasheevar Road (between Derrygonnelly and Garrison) and other roads in the Lough Navar Forest and Corel Glen Nature Reserve area. There have been 10 reds killed in the last four years.

· County Antrim: 14 Glenariff that was a combination of the Glenariff Road and the Glen Road. Eight in Glendun a combination of the Loughareema Road, Curhleake road, eight Glenarm Munie Road, three on Torr Road, four at Ballypatrick Loughareema road, three on Layde Road Cushendall and 14 in Glenshesk Glenshesk Road.

· County Londonderry: Victoria Road, L`Derry between the Craigavon Bridge and New Buildings.