Enthusiastic volunteers joined project staff last month in celebrating the launch of the new Healthy Reds Project.

Healthy Reds is a three year project run by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (WTSWW) that aims to find out more about the fragile population of red squirrels in Mid Wales. The Project has been enabled thanks to a £247,100 award from the National Lottery Heritage Fund along with an award of £49,999 from the Welsh Government’s Landfill Disposal Tax Community Scheme.

Healthy Reds will focus on three areas, including the Irfon Forest, near Abergwesyn, and take a close look into what red squirrels in Mid Wales need to enable them to thrive.

Work has already started in one of the other areas, the Clywedog Forest, where a survey team has detected red squirrels at five different locations.

The findings will inform a cage trapping survey in the autumn. Any red squirrels trapped will be weighed and pit tagged by trained staff and volunteers before being returned to the forest.

The pit tags will enable the project team to identify individual red squirrels and work out how many of these iconic native mammals survive in this remote area.

The Healthy Reds project will move on to tracking red squirrel movements using radio-collars. It is hoped that the tracking exercises will reveal which areas of the forest are the most valuable to red squirrels and this knowledge will help to inform habitat improvements.

The Project will also be focusing on Bryn Arau Duon, near Rhandirmwyn.

The WTSWW red squirrel officer Sarah Purdon said: “The demise of the red squirrel across much of Britain has been a great tragedy, initiated by the introduction of the invasive grey squirrel to this island. In Mid Wales, thanks to a sustained local grey squirrel control effort combined with an accident of habitat provided by the vast plantation forests, we have managed to retain red squirrels.

“The population is sparse and remains fragile; we have scant information about how red squirrels survive in the Tywi and surrounding forests. But now, thanks to National Lottery players and the WCVA administered Landfill Disposal Tax Scheme, we are able to take an in-depth look at how red squirrels use this habitat.

“With the help of local volunteers WTSWW will be carrying out habitat and red squirrel surveys and tracking red squirrels to find out what part of the forest they use. The information gleaned will help us to target conservation efforts. It’s great to know that we are a step closer to improving the stakes for red squirrel in Mid Wales.”

Richard Bellamy, director of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Wales said: “Our natural heritage is a most precious resource and, thanks to National Lottery players, National Lottery Heritage Fund grants have helped to protect an amazing range of landscapes, habitats, and species of plants and animals. The National Lottery Heritage Fund is delighted to support ‘Healthy Reds’ that will stimulate people’s interest in the natural world and red squirrels by helping to protect them for future generations.”

The Project will be working with local people as well as schools, universities and colleges. If you would like to get involved, or to find out more information about the Healthy Reds Project, please contact Sarah on s.purdon@welshwildlife.org / 07972 201202.