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Home > NIEA > Conserving Biodiversity > Northern Ireland Squirrel Forum

The Northern Ireland Squirrel Forum (NISF)

Last updated: 28 November 2014

NISF Squirrel Logo designed by Hanna TisdaleThe Northern Ireland Squirrel Forum (NISF) was established to bring together statutory and non-statutory organization  as well as representatives of country parks, private landowners and local volunteer organizations dedicated to protecting the red squirrel in Northern Ireland. The NISF provides an opportunity for the members of the group to feedback details of news, exchange ideas, new research findings, best practice on how to help conserve red and control grey squirrels.  

The NISF is chaired by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency  (NIEA) and has representation from:

Biodiversity Officers from:


Northern Ireland currently has eight Red Squirrel volunteer Groups who work with the statutory agencies and land owners to secure the future of the red squirrel. The map below shows the approximate working areas of the 8 Red Squirrel groups currently operating in Northern Ireland.

NISF, squirrel groups,

There are links to further information on each of groups below:

The NISF have representation on the UK Red Squirrel Forum

The UK Red Squirrel Group (UKRSG) aims to co-ordinate and raise awareness of the conservation needs of our native red squirrel and the action being taken to deliver this under the UK Red Squirrel Species Action Plan. The group has an official responsibility to report the success and progress towards this within the overall UK Biodiversity Action Plan but also helps to develop and co-ordinate advice and best-practice on red squirrel conservation issues for landowners, conservationists, statutory officials and the general public. The group works at the UK level and liaises closely with the country groups to deliver action on a local level.

Members of the NISF also liaise closely with the red squirrel groups in Great Britain.  

These include the Red Squirrel Survival Trust

European Squirrel Initiative

Isle of Wight Red Squirrel project

Red Squirrels Northern England

Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels

Contact the NISF

Red Squirrel Copyright John Doherty


Telephone 028 9056 9551

Write to:

Northern Ireland Squirrel Forum
c/o The NIEA Wildlife Team
2nd Flr Klondyke Building, Cromac Ave.
Gasworks Business Park

Malone Lower
Belfast BT7 2JA.

Squirrel Forum News


Belfast Zoo leads the way for red squirrel conservation!

picture of a red squirrel perched in a conifer

Belfast zoo logo

Great news from our friends at Belfast Zoo!!

In recent weeks Belfast Zoo has played a vital role in a momentous achievement for Northern Ireland wildlife.  Four red squirrels, born at Belfast Zoo, were recently released into the wild at Glenarm estate.

Belfast Zoo first became home to red squirrels in 2012, when Taisie, Shesk and Oisin arrived at ‘red squirrel nook’, from the Glens of Antrim, with the help of the Glens Red Squirrel Group.  The aim of red squirrel nook was predominantly education and interaction.  However, from the beginning, the hope was that the squirrels would be sufficiently content in the nook to breed.

Belfast zoo, red squirrels, captive breeding

Belfast zoo, signage, red squirrels,

One kitten was born in 2013 and, in 2014, Belfast Zoo has been celebrating the arrival of six more squirrel kittens.  In anticipation of breeding success, release arrangements were drawn up by Belfast Zoo, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and the Northern Ireland Squirrel Forum (NISF).

red squirrels, babies, kits, nest box, young, cute, conservation, belfast zoo,

red squirrels, kits, babies, belfast zoo,

Zoo curator and chairperson of the Belfast Zoo native species group, Alyn Cairns, explains, “Here at the zoo, we care for and conserve a variety of endangered species from across the world.  However, we are equally delighted to be playing an active role in the conservation of our own wildlife.  There has been extensive preparation by the zoo’s native species group, the zoo vet, Glenarm Estate, Glenarm gamekeepers, members of the Glens Red Squirrel Group, NIEA and the NISF.  The release of four red squirrels, born at the zoo, is the culmination of ten years of planning and commitment to the cause and we are delighted to announce that the release of the squirrels went smoothly and successfully.”

red squirrel, health check, vet, belfast zoo, release

Following health checks, Tivi left Belfast Zoo on Wednesday 27 August 2014, accompanied by the zoo vet and Alyn Cairns, and entered a purpose-built ‘soft release’ enclosure at Glenarm estate.  She was joined by a male squirrel, Alex, and they remained there for ten days to acclimatise to the surroundings.  During this time they were monitored by game keepers and members of the Glens Red Squirrel Group, with input from zoo staff.  After careful assessment the pair were released into Glenarm Estate on Monday 15 September 2014.  

Following the success of the pair’s release an additional two offspring, named Belle and Glen, were taken to Glenarm and the process was repeated with a further release and equal success.

Red Squirrels, kits, kittens, babies, release, belfast zoo, Photo by Glens RSG member Su Topping

Since the release of the four red squirrels, volunteers from the Glens Red Squirrel Group have continued to monitor the animals, demonstrating their commitment and passion for such a charismatic native species and the project. Glens Red Squirrel Group chair, Daniel McAfee stated, “The release was a very rewarding experience for all our very dedicated group members who took on feeding and monitoring of the squirrels while they were settling in to the new surroundings. We are glad to see such a successful breeding programme at Belfast Zoo and the time, effort and research the zoo team has and continues to put into the squirrels. This is a great example of how zoos can help local wildlife as well as exotic and endangered animals. We have been grateful to be part of the first captive release of red squirrels in Northern Ireland and the first native species release for the zoo.”

picture of red squirrel

Chairperson of the NISF, Declan Looney, is delighted with the outcome of the project, “The aim of the Northern Ireland Squirrel Forum is to bring together those dedicated to protecting the red squirrel in Northern Ireland.  It is extremely encouraging when this collaborative effort results in a project with such demonstrable results, as Belfast Zoo’s red squirrel nook.  The breeding project at Belfast Zoo aims to preserve an iconic native species, which is facing increased threat in Northern Ireland, through the provision of a safety net population with the ability to populate existing and identified new areas of habitat.  The release of four red squirrels is not only a great success for those of us who worked closely on this project but it is a success for everyone in Northern Ireland who will hopefully be able to celebrate this species for many more generations.

Belfast Zoo’s ‘red squirrel nook’ is still home to Taisie, Shesk, Oisin and three kittens.  When these kittens are old enough, a suitable area will be selected and further releases will be performed.

Belfast Zoo, Red Squirrels, Captive breeding,

Belfast Zoo’s red squirrel nook was funded by zoo visitors in 2010. Belfast Zoo would like to thank everyone for their support, without which, this project would not have been possible.

For more information, visit or email  Adopt your favourite animal at Belfast Zoo.


Red Squirrel Week 2014  offically runs from 04 October to 12 October, but we have squirrel related events running from mid September through to the end of October.  


The Fermanagh Red Squirrel group and West Tyrone Red Squirrel Group are taking part in a couple of events

Autumn brings our AGM and some other events you may be interested in... The FRSG is holding a public meeting on Wednesday 22nd October and everyone is welcome. This will be some peoples first opportunity to come along to a meeting to hear about what we get up to and meet other red squirrel enthusiasts so, do come along! Please see below for more info.

Also, the Local Biodiversity Action Plan for Fermanagh & Omagh District Council is out for public consultation at the moment. A drop-in event has been organised for Thursday 9th October from 12noon-2pm at Fermanagh District Council's Townhall, Enniskillen. It would be great if you could spare a few minutes to let the Council know what habitats and species you feel represent your new Council area, such as the red squirrel! You can find out a bit more about this at under Consultations.

Fermanagh Red Squirrel Group (FRSG) - Public Meeting and AGM

National Trust's Castle Coole, Tearoom, Enniskillen

Wednesday 22nd October 2014 - 7pm to 9pm

The FRSG will be organising a public meeting in October to bring everyone together to celebrate and discuss one of our most iconic native species in Fermanagh – the red squirrel. Education programmes and survey projects over the last year will be discussed as well as the status of the species locally and across Northern Ireland. The work of other Red Squirrel Groups will be touched upon as well as future opportunities we can look forward to.  For further information, please visit, email or phone 07789221011.

British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) - Garden BirdWatch Survey

National Trust's Castle Coole, Tearoom, Enniskillen

Tuesday 14th October 2014 - 7pm to 9pm

If you are interested in recording the birds that visit your garden throughout the year, then BTO's Garden Birdwatch Survey could be for you!The weekly garden bird survey runs throughout the year and is a great way of contributing towards our understanding of bird populations, the resources they utilise etc. The Council's Biodiversity Officer and the National Trust's Conservation Ranger will also be there to help so a biodiversity-themed evening is a definite! For more information contact the Biodiversity Officer at, mobile 07791034275 or visit


11th October 2014

Ards Red Squirrel Group and the National Trust

are hosting a red squirrel morning at Mount Stewart house and gardens, Greyabbey, Newtownards.  

11 October 2014 1000-1200.

Meet at reception for 10am.

There will be a guided walk, followed by a range of red squirrel related activities for all the family.

Normal admission to Mount Stewart, Members free.

For event: £3 for adult and £1.50 for children.

Booking essential – phone (028) 4278 8387



12th October 2014

Tollymore Red Squirrel Group -"Red Squirrel Day Goes Wild" Tollymore National Outdoor Centre - Bryansford , Newcastle BT33 0PZ

Hosted  their annual Red Squirrel Event this year at the National Mountain Centre, Tollymore Forest.  This was a special 10th Anniversary event celebrating red squirrels and other biodiversity issues.   

Several hundred visitors were entertained by various groups and organisations in additional to the Tollymore RSG volunteers.  A great day was had by all.  

Tollymore Red Squirrel Group, 2014, Squirrel Week, National Mountain Centre, Tollymore,


11th October 2014

Ring of Gullion and Cooley Red Squirrel Group

As part of National Red Squirrel Week, the Ring of Gullion and Cooley Red Squirrel Group joined forces with the Ring of Gullion team, Cooley Wildlife Photography and the Biodiversity Officer for Newry and Mourne District Council to raise awareness of Red Squirrels in the Ring of Gullion and Cooley area on Saturday 11th October in Slieve Gullion Forest Park.

Ring of Gullion and cooley Red squirrel group, Red squirrel week 2014, Newry and Mourne District council
Abby McSherry, Biodiversity Officer said, “The red squirrel is such a fascinating animal, we have lots of them in the Ring of Gullion but not many people have seen these elusive creatures.” She added, “This is a great day to be involved with and we have had great fun! “

Therese Hamill, Red Squirrel Group member added “We have used today to raise awareness of the difficult time the red squirrels are having especially in this area due to the competition from the grey squirrel and the disease they carry, traffic accidents and fragmentation and loss of suitable habitat. We are asking for more volunteers to help us set up feeders and report sightings of either squirrel”.

She added “I would like to thank the Southern Regional College Engineering Department who made some Northern Ireland Red Squirrel Forum (NIRSF) approved metal feeders for the group. These feeders are a great help to the red squirrels and the group”.

Feeders enable the group to set up new feeding points in the forest and control hygiene, which will minimise the risk of spreading diseases, such as the deadly pox virus. This disease can blight the Red Squirrel species, wiping a population out. The metal feeders will combat against attacks, by bigger animals trying to get the food. Wooden feeders can be destroyed by these animals, and also help the spread of disease, if contaminated.

More about the group can be found at there Facebook page.


Belfast Zoo is hosting their annual Native Species Weekend 18, 19 and 20 July 2014

This event is very popular and there are stands from a wide range of groups including NIEA and Forest Service Staff, as well members of Tollymore Red Squirrel Group.  

Belfast Zoo is home to many native species which are found in and around Northern Ireland. In summer 2012, Belfast Zoo also became home to three red squirrels (from the Glens of Antrim) when they formed the first captive breeding programme for red squirrels in Northern Ireland. These squirrels produced their first babies in 2013.  

During the zoo’s native species and red squirrel fun days, there were a number of events and activities designed to raise awareness of local diversity and wild habitats.

Belfast Zoo, red squirrels, squirrel suit,

Thanks to the parents and guardians of those children featured in these photos who gave their kind permission to publish them on this and Belfast Zoo's websites.  


Ulster Wildlife Trust  - Squirrel control opinion survey

Take part in the grey squirrel control debate via this link below:

Grey Squirrel Control Opinion Survey

Tollymore RSG, Squirrel suits, mascots,

A little helping hand...

The Tollymore RSG had a little help from two furry representatives of the local red squirrel community at their Easter Weekend event on the 1st of April.  These guys will be making an appearance at the 2013 National Countrysports Fair being held at Moira Demesne, Co. Down, Northern Ireland, over the weekend of Saturday 25th & Sunday 26th May along with other members of the local red squirrel groups and the NISF.  

Joint Red Squirrel Groups Visit to Cumbria 23-25 Nov 2012.

5 NISF members crossed the Irish Sea in November to visit fellow squirrel savers in Cumbria were they met with members from Penrith and District Red Squirrel Group, Red Squirrel Rangers at CenterParcs at Whinfell, Red Squirrels Northern England and the Red squirrel Survival Trust - They are due to provide an account of their trip to the next NISF meeting in February.