Understanding grey squirrel damage in UK woodlands

Project lead(s)   Dr Robin Gill | Vertebrate Ecologist | Forest Research

Alexandra Ash | PhD Researcher | University of Southampton

Dr C. Patrick Doncaster | University of Southampton
Dr Rebecca Spake | University of Reading
Dr Chris Nichols | The Woodland Trust
Prof John Pickett | Cardiff University
Charles Dutton | Charles Dutton & Co

Project status   Active 2021-2025

Project funding  £120K

Research outcome   Adaptation
Grey squirrel
Since their introduction to the UK in late 1800s and early 1900s, grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) have caused extensive damage to broadleaf trees through bark-stripping behaviour. Recently identified by the Royal Forestry Society as a major threat to broadleaf woodland health and creation, squirrel damage undermines the UK Government’s ambitious targets to increase woodland area and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Previous research has shown how trees are susceptible to squirrel damage, but knowledge of what drives bark-stripping behaviour in grey squirrels is still lacking and current management is ineffective in targeting the behaviour. Gaining insight into the drivers and motivations of the behaviour will aid in the development of effective, humane and targeted management.

Research Aims and Objectives

To establish the drivers and motivations for squirrel bark stripping behaviour.

Project Description

This PhD project will investigate various potential causal pathways of bark-stripping behaviour in grey squirrels, and at each stage of the project aim to narrow down these pathways. It will:

  • Identify and organise knowledge gaps within the squirrel bark-stripping literature
  • Identify factors of woodland susceptibility to, and drivers of bark-stripping at the regional, landscape and local scales using existing datasets.
  • Identify causal mechanisms underpinning bark-stripping behaviour in broadleaved woodlands in southern England.
This project will deliver:

  • A thesis plan, preliminary literature review and three annual reports .
  • Peer-reviewed papers and technical recommendations for practical application of research.
  • A PhD thesis.

40% of British forests have ‘unfavourable’ levels  of herbivore damage, which limits the survival of young trees and threatens biodiversity.

Our Partners