Number of flying squirrels going up

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Flying squirrel. Source: Environment Agency

The Environment Agency announced on Wednesday that 94 flying squirrel habitats have been found this year, 10 of which are new. Although the number of animals has gone up, the general situation still needs to improve.

There are nearly 150 sites registered in Estonia where flying squirrels can be seen, but 94 of them have been confirmed to be habitats, up from 76 in 2020 and 71 in 2019.

The state's environmental strategy has set a minimum goal of 60 habitats of 150 sites. After years of constant drops in flying squirrel population, the number of discovered sites has gone up each year since 2014 and the minimum goal was first achieved in 2019.

Environment Agency living wildlife department leading specialist Rauno Kalda said the number of sites has gone up from the animals re-populating old habitats and finding new ones. He said abandoned habitats have been re-populated, because forests have re-grown in locations where they were felled in the 1990s and the start of this millennium.

This allows broken movement corridors to recover and flying squirrels to once again return to their habitats, which were cut off from other areas. "Young animals must leave home after reaching a certain age and find themselves a new home region. Having found it, they may remain in that new place. This requires a forest of suitable age and structure," Kalda noted.

He added that movement corridors are also necessary because flying squirrels do not tend to use flat areas and the also cannot use low and young woodlands.

State of flying squirrels in Estonia not good

Flying squirrels are in the first category (Least Concern) of International Union for Conservation of Nature protection and regardless of the improvement of monitoring parameters, the Environment Agency says the state of flying squirrels in Estonia cannot be called good.

Flying squirrels are most common in the Alutaguse region, but their range is fragmented into at least six or seven isolated populations, between which the animals are unable to communicate due to their long distance.

Environment Agency conservation bureau leading specialist Marju Keis considers strict protection of nesting forests a key factor in improving the situation, but connection corridors must also be restored.

"In order for the species to survive, we have established restrictions on forest management for both nesting sites and movement corridors between habitats. Unfortunately, there are fewer of these suitable forests and the future of flying squirrels depend on how well we can maintain the remaining habitats and connecting movement corridors," Keis explained.

The agency said that monitoring results are still encouraging. Flying squirrels can be found in Ida-Viru and Lääne-Viru counties, they have also been spotted in northern Jõgeva County. The range of flying squirrel habitats has decreased considerably over the last century and flying squirrels have not been seen in southern Estonia, Rapla County and Harju County, formerly regions of flying squirrel habitats.

Flying squirrel. Source: Rainar Kurbel

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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