A rodent-eating predator appears an unlikely hero for the crimson squirrel.
But conservationists in Wales are being inspired by information the native pine marten could also be serving to their trigger.
Research from Queen’s University in Belfast means that numbers of crimson squirrels are on the rise in areas the place pine martens additionally reside.
The purpose given is that pine martens prey on gray squirrels excess of they do on crimson squirrels.
The analysis has been welcomed by the Mid Wales Red Squirrel Partnership, whose members are attempting to guard the species in an space the place pine martens are actually additionally lively.
Between 2015 and 2017, pine martens had been reintroduced to woodland close to Devil’s Bridge in Ceredigion.
Since then they’ve moved into new components of mid Wales – and have been noticed within the Tywi Forest close to Lampeter.
Phil Harries of the South and West Wales Wildlife Trust mentioned: “The greys have now got a predator, whereas before they never had a predator. So we’ll see what the future brings for the reds – hopefully all good news.”
The researchers in Belfast imagine pine martens could also be raiding gray squirrel nests, focusing on the juveniles and the females caring for them.
And whereas the martens would additionally prey on crimson squirrels, they really accomplish that at a far decrease stage than with the greys.
It is believed one purpose for this might be that pine martens and crimson squirrels – each native to Europe – advanced alongside each other and as such crimson squirrels are extra conscious of the specter of the pine marten than the American gray squirrel.
Huw Denman, a forester from Carmarthenshire who labored with the Vincent Wildlife Trust on reintroducing the pine martens to mid Wales, mentioned: “There was a catastrophic collapse of grey squirrels as soon as the pine martens arrived, and the red squirrels came back with the pine martens.
“The gray squirrel presents a greater meals supply for the pine marten – they’re virtually twice the scale of the reds.”
Red squirrels once lived in all parts of Wales but they are now just found in pockets – in parts of mid Wales, on Anglesey, in the Clocaenog Forest near Ruthin and in Gwynedd.
In July, four pine martens were released into a forest near Bangor as part of the Red Squirrels United project, an EU-funded programme to safeguard national red squirrel populations.
Craig Shuttleworth, who works for the Red Squirrels Trust Wales on Anglesey, said: “It’s early days, however they’ve already been consuming gray squirrels, crows and magpies.
“Our hope is that the mainland red squirrel population continues to spread out.”