These two photographs illustrate what happens to a red squirrel when a grey squirrel infects it with the disease, squirrelpox virus (SQPV). Painful lesions develop and spread over its body from the skin around the eyes and nose. As the disease progresses some reds may die from secondary infections contracted through the raw skin but the vast majority, crippled and unable to see, can’t feed themselves and starve to death. It can take a red squirrel up to 3 weeks to die after becoming infected with the SQPV.

The red squirrel has been in retreat since the grey squirrel was first introduced into Britain in the late 1800s. Initially, the greys’ overwhelming ascendancy was achieved  by outcompeting the timid reds for food because they are more aggressive, over twice the size and capable of living in population densities up to 16 times greater than that of the reds. The greys are also able to exploit some food sources earlier than the reds. This competition for food puts the reds under such stress that they are unable to breed successfully and so the ever increasing numbers of grey squirrels continue to take over more woods and forests that were once home to the reds.

Unfortunately, the greys’ already rapid rate of encroachment is increased by a factor of 20 when they are infected with SQPV. The disease has no effect on the greys but it is fatal to the reds and decimates their numbers. It has been estimated that the English red squirrel could be extinct in 10 years.

Because of the threat posed by this disease, the Wildlife Ark Trust, a registered charity, decided it was essential to try and develop a vaccine to protect the red squirrels from the effects of the virus. It approached the Moredun Research Institute, which is internationally recognized for promoting animal health and welfare, and it agreed to undertake the research which started in January 2009. WE ARE DELIGHTED TO ANNOUNCE THAT AN EFFECTIVE VACCINE CANDIDATE HAS NOW BEEN DISCOVERED BUT IT IS NOT THE FINISHED ARTICLE AND NOW NEEDS TO BE ATTENUATED

The importance of the vaccine research project has now also been endorsed at government level internationally by

Denmark’s Nature Agency which stated that the squirrelpox vaccine will be “an important management tool”,

Norway's Ministry of the environment which congratulates the Wildlife Ark Trust on "the discovery of a candidate for an effective squirrelpox virus vaccine"

Austria's Federal Ministry of Health which lends its “moral support to the work of generating an effective vaccine”,

Estonia's Ministry of the Environment which supports this "vital cause"

Poland's General Directorate of Environment Protection.

Spain's Ministry of Agriculture, Food and the Environment which “highly values the current work, and future plans, of the Wildlife Ark Trust for the conservation of the red squirrel”,

the Netherlands’ Director of Nature and Biodiversity wrote “I am in no doubt that it is extremely important to find an effective vaccine to protect the red squirrels against SQPV. I therefore wish you every success in your continuing research”

Ireland's National Park and Wildlife Service whose Dr. Ferdia Marnell stated. "The development of an effective, targeted vaccine thet could help protect wild red squirrel populations would be a significant step forward in red squirrel conservation and I commend the work of the Wildlife Ark Trust in this regard."

Germany’s Federal Environment Agency which wrote that, “The expansion of the squirrelpox virus constitutes a dangerous threat to European red squirrel populations. Your intensive commitment to developing a suitable vaccine is very welcome!”

The vaccine development project has cost £315,000 to date and the Wildlife Ark Trust is now looking to raise £189,000 for the vaccine research through the red squirrel appeal. Any donations received in excess of this amount will go to the Trust’s other red squirrel conservation work.  The Trust’s chairman, Robert Wilkin, said, “We have been very moved by the messages that often accompanied the previous donations. One elderly lady donor stated that she would love to see a red squirrel in the wild before she died. On another occasion, a  13 year old girl age donated her pocket money.”

Chris PackhamChris Packham, the television wildlife presenter and a patron of the Trust says, “If you value our native wildlife you should support the Red Squirrel Appeal. Normally, concerned members of the public have to wait patiently, sometimes very patiently, for government to get its act together before any action is taken to protect our wildlife. On this occasion, however, you can immediately influence the outcome of this major conservation effort to save our red squirrels. The red squirrel is one of our  flagship animals and, as such, its fate will be a major factor in determining the future wellbeing, or otherwise, of our other less charismatic species that are also under threat.”

Dr Craig Shuttleworth, of the Red Squirrel Trust Wales, is considered by many to be the pre-eminent red squirrel expert in the UK and he has gone on record as saying, “Of all the current conservation initiatives, I consider the squirrelpox vaccine research the one most likely to prove to be the saviour of the red squirrels.” 

The proposed development of a squirrelpox vaccine is supported by Defra, the Red Squirrel Protection Partnership, Northern Red Squirrels (the umbrella organization for the 60 plus volunteer Red Squirrel Groups in the north of England) the Songbird Survival Trust, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Dr Colin McInnes, Dr Peter Lurz, Dr Craig Shuttleworth, Professor Steven Rushton of Newcastle University, Professor Andy Peters, the National Trust and the UK Red Squirrel Group whose membership includes Natural England, the Scottish Squirrel Group, the English Squirrel Forum, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Forest Research and the Wildlife Trusts.


If you would like to support the Red Squirrel Appeal you can do so in a number of ways:

1:- You can donate by post by sending a cheque

made payable to The Wildlife Ark Trust


The Red Squirrel Appeal
The Wildlife Ark Trust
PO Box 63

If you would like to make your donation worth 25% more to the Appeal, at no extra cost to yourself, you can send your cheque with a completed Gift Aid form. If you require a Gift Aid form, you can download one here: Gift Aid Form.pdf

2:- You can donate online with your credit or debit card through the Charity Aid Foundation by using the Donate Online Now button above. This method still allows you to use Gift Aid.

If the Red Squirrel Appeal is fortunate enough to exceed its target any surplus monies will be used for the charity’s other red squirrel conservation work. You must pay an amount of income and/or capital gains tax for each year that is at least equal to the amount of tax that the charity will reclaim on your gift for that year.

Other Quotes From The Project’s Supporters

The UK Red Squirrel Group leads the delivery of the red squirrel Biodiversity Action Plan in Britain

and it believes that, “….the removal of the squirrelpox factor from the equation, or at least a reduction in its importance, would greatly increase our chances of being able to retain red squirrel populations. The Moredun Research Institute is a world leader in livestock vaccine development as well as being a centre of expertise on squirrelpox, so they are well placed to take on this challenge. The development of such a vaccine is likely to take several years, but we believe that there is a good chance of success.”

The National Trust

“supports the need for research into the epidemiology of  squirrelpox virus and the possible development of a vaccine led by the Moredun Institute.”

Jerry Moss,
the Red Squirrel Ranger for the Whinfell Forest Reserve

says, “I’ve seen at first hand the awful pain red squirrels suffer when they get squirrelpox. No animal should have to endure that agony. For that reason it’s vital that we develop a squirrelpox vaccine for the reds …”.