Change tree felling laws to help save threatened red squirrels

On 3 July, MPs debated how to prevent the extinction of red squirrels in the UK. Red Squirrels United is calling on government to change outdated tree felling legislation and increase funding to save the endangered native red squirrel.

Red squirrels have become extinct across large parts of the UK and only 140,000 remain. Red squirrels can be endangered by poorly timed tree felling (as well as pox and other reasons), say campaigners. "Outdated laws allow trees to be cut down during their breeding season and this means that red squirrel babies can lose their homes or die when the trees that are home to their nests are cut down."

In England and Wales, under the 1967 Forestry Act local authorities cannot refuse tree felling licenses in order to conserve or enhance vulnerable flora and fauna. In contrast, Scotland can refuse licences to protect wildlife populations where necessary.  Red Squirrels United wants the law to be changed so that licences can be refused or granted with 'enforceable wildlife protection conditions' added to safeguard vulnerable flora and fauna where appropriate. This could include the need for thorough pre-felling checks and preventing felling within 1km of breeding red squirrels. In Wales, the Welsh Government is committed to revising the outdated 1967 Forestry Act, but in England there is no current plan for change.

Nikki Robinson of Red Squirrels United said: "We have received several reports of forest felling taking place in areas where numbers of red squirrels are present and possibly breeding during spring and summer; this is unacceptable. This species is at serious risk of extinction in the UK, and we should be doing everything we can to safeguard its future. We are calling for seasonal restrictions to tree felling licences to protect all rare species where needed. There is also no consideration for the cumulative impacts of issuing multiple tree felling licenses or the impact this could have on vulnerable wildlife populations in an area."

Stephen Trotter, chair of Red Squirrels United added: "We fully recognise the economic and operational needs of the forestry industry and Red Squirrels United works closely and successfully with many woodland owners. We are not against the felling of trees but wish to see more sensitive working practices that ensure vulnerable species are protected at key times of the year, particularly as such a small proportion of woodlands in England and Wales contain red squirrels."

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