The results from an all Ireland squirrel survey in 2007 showed a dramatic increase in the spread of the grey squirrel over the previous twenty years. The pest was present in 26 of the 32 counties, including Offaly, Tpperary, Westmeath, Limerick, Kilkenny and Laois.
Although the survey showed there were 22 sightings of red squirrels in Offaly there were also 9 sightings of grey squirrels spread mainly in the western side of the county. The grey squirrel is a major threat to the survival of the native red squirrel and to the future of broadleaf trees because of the manner in which they remove bark. Recently there have been reports of two cases of the pox virus in Co Wicklow and another in Antrim. The disease is lethal to the native reds and carried by grey squirrels.
With the increased planting of broadleaf trees over the last two decades, woodland owners and the public need to be vigilant with regard to the threat posed by grey squirrels and on the extent to which they can destroy vigorous healthy trees through bark stripping and eliminate red squirrels.
The new survey is being carried out in 2012 and it aims to pin point the most vulnerable areas in the country and ensure strategies are in place to minimize further tree damage and spread of the pest. Sightings can be easily recorded on a form on www.woodlandmammals.com. Hard copies of the form are also available from Ms Margaret Flaherty, Mammal Ecology Group, Martin Ryan Institute, NUI, Galway.