Fran Foster's Story
Fran Foster wanted to investigate different approaches to squirrel conservation and management, to see what learnings she could bring back to the UK.
In 2013 Fran Foster, a self-employed red squirrel ranger from North Cumbria, embarked on her Fellowship to France, Italy and Switzerland to explore squirrel management. Sadly, due to competition from grey squirrels, the native red squirrel is on the brink of extinction in many parts of England and Wales.
Fran was particularly interested in public attitude to wildlife control and the associated conflict resolution, and she visited many stakeholders in the alien species management debate as possible.
In Genoa the different views on wildlife management were very obvious - with huge mistrust of the motives of people on all sides of the conservation debate. Introduced grey squirrels in Italy are causing a relentless regional decline in red squirrel populations. Fran visited conservation organisations, natural history museums and universities involved in alien species management, schools and youth groups, where her cocker spaniel proved to be a real ice-breaker, paving the way for more open discussion. Fran soon realised that everyone has their own ideas about alien species and that it is essential to listen to different opinions and to cooperate with diverse special interest groups with sometimes contradictory values.
A highlight of her trip was the time spent with Dr Luc Wauters in the Varese region of Italy. This was the most intense fieldwork, allowing Fran to develop skills in monitoring using radio-tracking and trail cameras, as well as trapping and dispatching grey squirrels.
As part of her study Fran looked at co-operation between field-sports, industry and conservation. Amongst those she met, there was not just tolerance, but genuine understanding of these overlapping roles.
Fran’s Fellowship experience has led to her being commissioned to write a column in a local paper, articles in country and national magazines, and filming of red squirrels with BBC Wales. Other conservation projects from Scotland to Cornwall have taken up her articles and she has been supported by local radio.
Fran has given talks and workshops to several WI groups, and set up a highly successful trap-loan and training scheme for local residents. Many farmers and landowners are now supportive, carrying out grey squirrel control on their own land with her help.
Fran has also been inspiring local young people to get involved by holding a series of practical activities and workshops for scouts, wildlife watch groups and schools.
Promotion of the red squirrel rather than demonizing the grey is a message that will pave the way for her future conservation work.
It is important to continue to work to raise the profile of wildlife management as a tool for conservation. In a world of competing values, ethical dilemmas and disagreements a new profession is needed; blending seamlessly the skills of the ecologist, the scientist, the conservationist and pest controller, into a wildlife manager, so that red squirrel conservation is never again reliant on the rattling of collecting tins. Since my Fellowship, I feel I possess the skills and qualities needed and now have the ability to pass them on to others.