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Formby, the town where red squirrel strategy keeps grey invader out

Formby is known for its elegant tree-lined streets, woodland and long stretches of coastal sand dunes. It has also become Britain’s only urban stronghold of the red squirrel.

Red squirrels were a common sight across Britain until the introduction of the grey from America in 1876. The invasive species competed with them for food and infected them with the deadly squirrel pox virus, almost wiping the reds out.

Conservation work has led to the return of red squirrels in the countryside but cities and towns have until now been the preserve of the grey.

Formby is proving an ideal spot for the reds because the sea on one side is a natural barrier to greys, while on the other side is a large woodland looked after by the National Trust and Lancashire Wildlife Trust whose conservation efforts have cleared out the greys. “Lots of local people are enthusiastic about the reds and feed them — I see three or four every day by my flat in Formby,” said Kathryn Fingland, who is studying the squirrels for a PhD.

There are now estimated to be 1,000 reds in Formby and the Lancashire Wildlife Trust and other groups want to encourage them into neighbouring areas. It is thought there are still fewer than 140,000 red squirrels in the UK, but Formby could be the start of an urban revival.

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