Calls for rope bridge to save red squirrel in Limerick

Aine Fitzgerald

Reporter:

Aine Fitzgerald

Residents Tom McNamara and John Neville with his grandaughter Lauren, 10, are appealing for motorists to slow down as the native red squirrel is about in Ballysheedy. Picture:Press 22
UP to 40 red squirrels have been killed on a stretch of road in County Limerick over the last two years says a local resident who is demanding the installation of flyover rope bridges to prevent further deaths of the native Irish species.

UP to 40 red squirrels have been killed on a stretch of road in County Limerick over the last two years says a local resident who is demanding the installation of flyover rope bridges to prevent further deaths of the native Irish species.

Last week, the Limerick Leader reported how Limerick City and County Council had erected signs on the R511 at Friarstown, Ballysheedy warning motorists: CAUTION, SQUIRRELS CROSSING. They are the first signs of their kind in the county.

Tom McNamara, the local resident who instigated the erection of the signs, says he also called for the installation of flyover rope bridges for the squirrels, but says, to date, his request has fallen on deaf ears.

“I am tired of picking up dead squirrels. There are so many of them being killed. I’m not exaggerating,” said Mr McNamara who says he first raised the issue of the squirrels being killed around two years ago, and called for a rope bridge in the area at that time.

Since the signs were erected, around six weeks ago, Mr McNamara says he has come across three more dead squirrels which have been mown down by motorists.

“We get traffic from Bruff and Kilmallock and all of County Limerick. It’s a rat race to Raheen Industrial Estate. Our road has changed significantly in the last 20 years. When we were growing up, like most people in the county, we could play football on our road but now it’s one of the busiest regional roads and most dangerous in County Limerick. There have been several accidents. It’s lethal,” said Mr McNamara.

He feels that it’s imperative that Limerick City and County Council, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, install the rope bridges to allow the squirrels to cross safely.

“There is a large wooded area full of beech trees and they are crossing the road to get to the hazel trees to gather the hazelnuts. You mightn’t think they would use the rope bridges but that’s what they do. Studies in Scotland and the UK show that they will use them. Their instinct is to go across it.”

Mr McNamara feels the council and the National Parks and Wildlife Service have been slow to respond to his concerns. Red squirrels are one of Ireland’s most iconic mammals, but sadly they are under severe threat from the grey squirrel which is competing for habitat and food.

“Red squirrel numbers are dwindling fast. They’re a native Irish species, like the red deer and the badger. They were even put on one of our stamps a few years ago. They’re also an Irish brand, like the harp,” Mr McNamara said.

He says he will resort to further action if the rope bridges aren’t installed.

“All I want to do is highlight the issue. The next thing I’m going to be doing is hanging the squirrels off the signs. I have forwarded research to the council and National Parks and Wildlife Service and gave them contacts in the UK and Scotland about where to get these rope bridges.

“They are not expensive. You tie them from one tree to another across the road. They would be maybe 10 metres high so they are above any truck. The squirrels will cross on the ropes and avoid having to go on ground level,” he explained.

When contacted, a spokesperson for the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said: “We are not aware of any reason why rope bridges might not be erected (providing they comply with road safety regulations etc), but we are not aware of any actual plans to erect any. It is likely that permissions would be required from individual woodland owners involved and perhaps the local authority given their responsibility for local roads.”