A RECOMMENDATION has been made to reduce the population of grey squirrels in Kilkenny city’s Castle Park. The rodents have been blamed for the destruction of a number of tree species in the park, particularly newly planted ones. According to the Office of Public Works (OPW) the vermin are the most significant threat to the health of the trees growing in the hugely popular public park.
It said that the barks of the sycamore, oak and beech trees are the ones in most danger and that the squirrels have already destroyed the leading shoots of most of the planted trees in the park.
However, the Kilkenny People understands that the recommendation is unlikely to be acted upon because of reports being prepared by University College Dublin (UCD) which have not yet been completed. Many residents of the city consider the grey squirrel as vermin and a large number of the animals have been killed outside the Castle Park walls in a concerted campaign to reduce their numbers.
However all this might be academic following the dramatic news that the native Irish species, the pine marten is in County Kilkenny. The pine marten known in Irish as the “tree cat” has a yellow patch on its throat; otherwise its coat is dark, chocolate brown. It has large rounded ears and its tail is long and bushy. It has large feet and sharp claws. It has excellent senses of smell, hearing and eyesight. A solitary and territorial animal, it is nocturnal and makes its dens in hollows in trees, crevices in rocks and squirrel dreys. The pine marten may travel 20 miles in one night in search of food. It eats birds, small mammals, berries, mushrooms, invertebrates, carrion, earthworms, beetles, rats, wood mice, leverets, rabbits, frogs and nestlings. It is particularly susceptible to the grey squirrel and not the native Irish red squirrels. Grey squirrels compete with the native red squirrel and they have thrived here leading to the collapse of the red squirrel population. But all is not lost, with or without the reports from UCD.
The pine marten has made its way to Inistioge and was recently caught on night camera in the Castlecomer area. There have also been sightings of the arch assassin, very close to the city at Castle Blunden. Nature lovers have said more and more red squirrels have returned to Woodstock since the the pine marten arrived there. It should be noted that red squirrels do not damage the bark of trees like the grey squirrels. The grey squirrels are heavier and they are chased on to branches by the pine martin.
They are unable to jump from these delicate little branches to other branches and fall to the ground making them easy prey for the pine martin. The red squirrel which is lighter, can leap from tree to tree and thus evade the would be killer.
Already, an unknown group have been culling the grey squirrel population along the River Nore by Kilkenny Castle but with the expected return of the pine marten to this area, the culling may no longer be necessary.
Trees in the Castle park
The recommendation to reduce the grey squirrel population in the park was made by Dr Philip Blackstock who also recommended the felling of five mature beech trees because they had become infected with ganoderma and were in danger of crown or trunk failure. Some of the holm oak in the park are also unstable and three of them have been felled.
Around 40 replacement trees have been purchased by the OPW including 10 semi-mature holm oaks and 30 semi-mature beech trees.