The Glens Red Squirrel Group held a meeting at the beginning of June and I (Daniel McAfee) was nominated and elected as Chair this year. For those of you who don’t know me, I was Vice Chair of the group for some time.
As a child, bugs, birds and furry little things were my interest and this is how Red Squirrels got to me. I have been working with, feeding and enjoying red squirrels from the first time I ever seen one in 1993 at Glenville Cushendall.
The squirrel was wrestling on one of several bird feeders that I had put up in my granny’s garden. This thirty minute encounter was the start of a 15 year period, pre Glens Red squirrel Group, of working with squirrels, making boxes, making feeders, hanging ropes and trying to get photos with a Kodak disposable camera, though this was in vain as the small brown dot wasn’t worth squinting your eyes for.
During these years family and visitors all enjoyed watching the squirrels play and feed to the call of “there’s the squirrel”, as they all made a mad rush to the window to see what they were doing.
Through time, one became two, two became three and at its height, we counted six as more feeders were added and the squirrels eventually became brave enough to come to the window to take hazel nuts and bites of apples.
On finding the first advertised meeting for what is now the Glens Red Squirrel Group and joining up, I was soon to learn, through taking part in a walk in Glenariff Forest Park, what I should be looking out for in my local forest in Ballycastle. That evening after the walk, I was in Ballycastle Forest looking for squirrels and hit the jackpot! I found evidence of squirrels, though I did not know at that time if they were red or grey.
Over the next few weeks of early Sunday mornings and putting up a few feeders, I got my first sighting of a Ballycastle squirrel and I was hooked even more than before. This spurred me on to set up feeding sites for the group in Ballycastle, Ballypatrick, Craigagh Wood, Cushendun and Cottage wood, all on my Sunday run to Glenville to the garden where I seen my first Red.
To date, I carry out educational walks with local schools in Ballycastle and I was very flattered to appear in a UTV program called “Wild about Ulster” to talk about reds and my interest in them. I help to set up and attend Information Stands at events, raise funds writing fireside quizzes and treasure hunts. I take photos and when I have time I capture footage of reds visiting the sites.
My work also involves maintaining these feed sites, setting up new sites and working with local land owners. Over the last few months I have also taken on a Ranger role thanks to the NGO challenge fund .
Another aspect of the work i do involves grey squirrel control in the Ballycastle area with even a few calls to as far as Ballymena. This was an aspect of red squirrel conservation I did not think I would have to deal with, as I had never seen a grey in Ballycastle or the Glens before, but I was soon to realise that it was necessary. I did run into a grey at one of the sites and thought it would be ok. I was wrong. Within 4 weeks the reds had abandoned the site and six greys had moved in. I then realised the greys had to be removed and I worked over the next four weeks trapping at weekends to do so. I’m happy to report the reds moved back to the site and all is still well to-date. This made me look into areas near by where i had been told greys resided and after their removal, I found reds moved into them within weeks. As an animal lover it was against all I stood for, as a red squirrel lover it needed and needs to be done.
I hope over this coming year to carry out work to benefit the Red Squirrels in the Glens of Antrim and to help those who have a passion to save our reds.
Chair of GRSG.