Natives helping each other in these troubled times

illustration of red squirrel by Eoin Mac Lochlainn


3 Red Squirrels – yes, I saw 3 Red Squirrels yesterday. Now, those of you not living in Ireland may not realise the significance of this occurrence but let me tell you that this was indeed a “VSE”, a very special event.

Ok, so the truth is that the Red Squirrel is a native Irish species but it has been brought close to extinction by the larger North American Grey Squirrel which was introduced into Ireland by some ‘eejit’ at the beginning of the 20th century ( I’m quoting Colin Stafford Johnson here, who presents the exellent nature programme entitled “Living the Wildlife”).

Now, Grey Squirrels are nasty and whenever they arrive in an area, the resident Red Squirrels (who are extra cute) usually disappear within 5 to 15 years. Tragic. But there were 3 Red Squirrels in a wood near Dublin yesterday. Was this a record?

The image above is one I did for a book that my brother and I collaborated on some years ago. Cóilín Mac Lochlainn, who is an environmental journalist and photographer, could tell you a lot more about this, but there’s talk that Pine Martens (native species) are growing in number in Ireland and that they are preying on Grey Squirrels – thus improving the lot of our native Red Squirrels… Apparently, as the Reds are lighter they can escape to the highest branches where Pine Martens dare not venture. The heavier Greys are not quite as nimble so…

unfortunately for them… curtains.  Nach ait an mac an saol.

If you have any Red Squirrel stories, we’d love to hear from you.

more about my own work at:




  1. Eoin, – I happen to have heard from Emma Sheehy, a zoologist who is studying the pine marten recovery in Ireland (and also in Scotland), and the impact this is having on squirrels, that the grey squirrel has almost disappeared from the midland counties of Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Tipperary, and the red squirrel has made a complete comeback in these counties. She says the grey squirrel is no longer common anywhere west of Kildare, though is still spreading into southern counties, notably Cork, where pine martens are still very rare. She also said the marten was now recovering in the Wicklow Mountains, where grey squirrels are still common, but she thinks the same wipeout of greys will happen there and that the grey squirrel will gradually be confined to an east coast strip.

    I have heard of quite a few sightings of pine martens in recent years, not only in Wicklow but also in Dublin, including in Stepaside and also in Kilternan, both in the Dublin foothills. So it is possible that pine martens are making a comeback in Dublin too, making a red squirrel recovery possible. This might explain your sighting of three red squirrels near Dublin recently, although that particular hill has a lot of conifer plantations on it, a habitat avoided by grey squirrels, where red squirrels can survive.


    Cóilín MacLochlainn

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment Cóilín, I’m just wondering – if the Pine Martens are making a big comeback and preying on Grey Squirrels, who will control the Pine Martens? It’s complicated 😦 but it’s nice to see the Red Squirrels again anyway.


      • I asked Emma what would happen when the Pine Martens had reduced the Grey Squirrel to near-extinction: would they then turn on the Red Squirrels? She said it would not be a problem because Pine Martens and Red Squirrels co-exist in high numbers in the midlands, as they always have, even though Red Squirrels are part of the marten’s diet (it feeds mainly on fieldmice).

        I don’t know if Pine Marten has any natural predator of significance; the greatest threat to it is from humans. Now that the marten is recovering (after being driven close to extinction) and its numbers are building, there are already calls from some (the usual) quarters to control its numbers. This is absurd given that its numbers will be controlled naturally by the availability of its prey species: when they fall, its numbers fall, when they recover, the marten recovers; it’s a typical predator-prey relationship.


      • As long as people don’t get the idea of having Pine Marten fur coats (!), it’ll be ok. Isn’t that what nearly drove them to extinction in the first place? Isn’t there a painting in the National Gallery in London – the Ambassadors, by Hans Holbein the Younger – and one of the ambassadors is wearing a coat made of ‘hundreds’ of Pine Marten skins.


  2. Lovely to hear about red squirrels ; My son-in-law has found a couple of dead young red squirrels on the road near to his house, sad but also a sign that more are around. He lives near to us in Donegal, close to Derry. He is a keen taxidermist.


      • In the past, it was often said that the River Shannon acted as a barrier to the spread of the Grey Squirrel west into Connacht. Of course, that made no sense as not only can squirrels swim, but there are many points where they can cross the Shannon by bridge or, nearer to source, by leaping to branches on the far side. The explanation, as we know today, is that Pine Martens were still present in good numbers west of the Shannon, from Clare to Sligo, and this prevented Grey Squirrels becoming established west of the Shannon. If they are also absent from Donegal, it may well be for the same reason; I don’t have info on this.


      • Yes, and I suppose there’s a lot of Scots Pine habitats in Donegal rather than the deciduous forests favoured by the Greys. That might have a bearing on the numbers too. Thanks for your comment Cóilín.


    • But having said that, no, there is not a lot of Scots Pine habitat in Donegal but there is plenty of Sitka spruce and lodgepole pine, so the Red squirrel has an advantage there, certainly, because the Grey prefers the deciduous woodlands with sycamore and beech, both introduced. In the last week I have seen three Grey Squirrels in a Sycamore tree opposite my house, which I can see from you my window at dawn. I think they have a drey there now but it’s very hard to say, their habits are a mystery to me.


  3. This is a very lovely painting, Eoin! I still need to try to paint them myself, thought I would use one of my pictures for it 🙂
    I have an aunt who lives in England which is why I know of the problems the Big Grey Squirrels are causing. Around her house there are only grey ones left 😦 I hope very much that the same won´t happen here in Germany! Thank you for directing me here! 🙂


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