The fate of the red squirrel population of Ynys Môn is set to be debated at the Senedd following the success of a petition which has so far gathered almost 10,500 signatures.

The petition was started in June by the notable red squirrel expert, Dr Craig Shuttleworth, from Bangor University. It calls for “new laws to protect rare red squirrels from habitat loss which causes population decline due to outdated 1960s tree felling laws”.

The petition also says “state-owned forests do not require a licence but are managed under plans which last 10 years or more. They don’t have to annually assess the cumulative impact of felling on red squirrel populations”.

When a petition reaches 10,000 signatures, it is considered for a debate in the Senedd.

The red squirrel petition is by far the most popular current petition on the Senedd website.

As reported by The National in May, Dr Shuttleworth previously accused Natural Resources Wales (NRW) of failing the protected red squirrel population of Ynys Môn by clearfelling trees within their natural habitats without having collected the necessary data beforehand.

For years he worked closely with NRW to maintain the island’s red squirrel population but said he would no longer do so until changes were made within the organisation.

“I’m both flabbergasted and humbled at the popularity of this petition”, said Dr Shuttleworth. “For citizens in Wales, clearly this is an important issue.

“What I’ve been hearing from people is that they just can’t believe that red squirrel habitat doesn’t have better protection.

“They think that because these are rare creatures, that means there must be some restrictions on what you can do.

“There are some of course, but it doesn’t stop woodlands from being clearfelled.

“This petition is asking for two specific things.

“Firstly, we want a change in the law to protect woodland habitats. And secondly, we want Natural Resources Wales, the regulator, to start taking red squirrels seriously.

“I think that people are starting to wake up and realise that we can’t go around accusing other countries of not doing enough for their biodiversity when we’ve got this sort of stuff going on on our own doorstep. If we want to prevent biodiversity decline globally, we’ve got to start at home, and then share our successes with other countries, to show that you can do it and what the benefits of doing it bring.

“The Senedd declared a nature emergency a few months ago. So knowing what we now know about the loss of nature, why on earth we still have 1960s forest legislation in Wales is bonkers.”

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Clwyd West MS, Darren Millar, is the Senedd’s Red Squirrel Species Champion and has raised the plight of the rare mammal numerous times in the chamber. He said: “I’m delighted to see so many people getting behind this important campaign to protect Welsh wildlife from irresponsible tree felling. I’ve been calling for a change in the law to address this problem for some years but there has been precious little action taken to date.

 “For the sake of iconic Welsh wildlife such as the red squirrel, forestry legislation must be updated as soon as possible to protect habitats from unnecessary destruction which could set back conservation efforts by decades.

 “Let’s hope that Ministers act to address this issue as soon as possible.”

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