A lifelong naturalist championing the survival of the red squirrel, a war veteran who volunteers at a nature reserve and a project encouraging schools to grow food have won National Trust awards celebrating the unsung heroes of the environment movement. The Guardian reports
Allan Davies won the Love Places category of the Octavia Hill Awards for his work in Cushendun, a village in County Antrim, where a red squirrel conservation he set up has made the area one of the last strongholds for the species in Northern Ireland. Native reds have been largely wiped out in the UK by the introduction of greys in 1876: there are more than 5m greys in the UK, while the number of red squirrels is estimated to be between 120,000 and 140,000.
“We must not lose them, they can’t all die on our watch,” said Davies. The Octavia Hill Awards are named after the Victorian campaigner who fought to create social housing and protect green spaces including from development. Thanks to the work of Davies, red squirrel numbers in Cushenden have risen 10% in just two and a half years.
Davies, a former prison officer, is now calling for signs to urge motorists to watch out for red squirrels and works with residents of all ages to raise awareness of the red’s plight.
Davies was also recognised for his work on the general unkeep of the village, whose name means the “Foot of the Dun” in Gaelic, and was once the home of poets Moira O’Neill and John Masefield, who drew inspiration from the idyllic coastal scenery. The Cornish-inspired village was designed in 1912 for Baron Cushendun by the architect Sir Clough Willams-Ellis.
He said his efforts to preserve the village were in memory of his late father, a lifelong admirer of Williams-Ellis, and said his love of nature stemmed from long-distance walks, including one along the length of the river Thames.
The winner of the Natural Hero category was Mike Barratt, an 89 year-old volunteer who helps run a 15-acre nature reserve at Titchwell Marsh in Norfolk, while a project that works with volunteers to look after green spaces and unused land, The Stroud Valleys Project, won the Green Spaces Guardian category.
The three winners were chosen by an online poll after being shortlisted by a panel that included National Trust director-general Fiona Reynolds and Fergus Collins, editor of BBC Countryfile magazine.
COMMENT: from the transcendentalist
There is no mention of the war on the grey squirrel in this article. The grey squirrel has had the misfortune to be a successful species, and any creature not on the brink of extinction soon becomes a target. It is unjustly being blamed for the demise of the red squirrel because it has developed immunity to the parapox virus, but red squirrels were driven to extinction by the loss of their favoured conifer habitat, and by the blood sports fraternity who used to kill them in their thousands, so much so that they were reintroduced from the continent. Most red squirrels in the UK are not indigenous but are the continental variety which is distinctly different genetically from the UK red squirrel, and these can be introduced in greater numbers at any time.