New Research Aims to Shed Light on Red Squirrel Decline

Veterinarian Tim Dale has begun a PhD at the University of Liverpool, part funded by the National Trust, to investigate why the deadly squirrel pox virus is destroying red squirrel populations. He will investigate how the disease is transmitted to red from grey squirrels – which are unaffected by the virus.

British Ecological Society Vice President, Professor Mike Begon, interviewed for today’s Guardian, suggested that conservationists long believed the theory of the aggressive grey outcompeting the red squirrel but that, in fact, the pox virus may have been the fundamental cause of the red’s decline all along.

Dale will work in Formby, “the frontline in the battle for survival between red and grey squirrels”, according to Professor Begon. Numbers of red squirrels there have slumped from 1,000 to 100 since the pox struck populations there two years ago.

Dale will investigate whether some red squirrels are immune to the pox. His research could help scientists to develop a vaccine against the disease.

Original article: Mysterious pox kills red squirrels, leaving grey squirrels marching on. Partick Barkham, Guardian, Thursday 1 October 2009.