Conservation of European Ground Squirrel
Project focuses on protection and enhancement of European Ground Squirrel populations in the nortwestern borders of it´s range: in Slovakia, Czech republic and in Poland.
The aim of this project is to support existing populations, restore suitable habitats and reintroduce the species to former localities.
- Novinky & Activities
- Main information
- Target species
- Project area
- Activities and results
- Media outputs
- How to help Ground Squirrel
Rescue trapping of ground squirrels near the Bratislava airport will soon be completed. You are looking at one of the last squirrels from this capture. We recently wrote about our colleagues from our ground squirrel conservation project who have been trapping ground squirrels there to save them because there is going to be construction on this site.
It is not any news that the largest population of ground squirrels in Slovakia lives at the Bratislava airport. Well, these squirrels naturally also run into the open countryside from there, and the mowed grass meadows between the technical buildings provide them good living space.
Sheep grazing has a long-term tradition in Spiš, and for its restoration in the meadows of Spišské Podhradie, several entities sterted to cooperate - the conservation association BROZ, the Administration of the Slovak Raj National Park, the city of Spišské Podhradie, and the Bishopric of Spišské with its seat in Spišské Podhradie at the Spišská Kapitula.
On Monday, sheep of our original breed - valaška - traveled to Spiš to get to know the new barn and meet the shepherd. As early as next week, we are going to release them at a beautiful location, on a meadow near Spišské Podhradie with a view of UNESCO location Spišský hrad.
This is also the reality of a cliamte change. Ground squirrels wake up every year in the middle to the end of March, which is about a month from now. This year, several localities report us that they have woken up and have already moved through their burrows, which means they have been awake for about a week.
In 2019, the ground squirrel was listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, and population curves throughout Europe show a continuing downward trend. Despite these trends, the number of Slovak ground squirrels continues to increase after decades. Thanks to nothing else than the LIFE Sysel project.
Today we planted fruit trees at the Ďurkovec sysľovisko near Tomášovský výhľad in Slovak paradise. It was a great and useful event and we thank everyone who participated. All of us are looking forward to the harvest, both for us and for the groundhogs.
On recent wanderings through the floodplain forest, the restoration of which was supported by the Dedoles company, we addressed other possibilities of our cooperation. How about creating a joint collection of socks? And draw attention to disappearing biodiversity? And so the Endangered Species collection was created, thanks to which species more or less conspicuously disappearing from our country got on the socks and information about them on the Dedoles website.
There is always something going on at the ground squirrel locality in the Tisovský Kras. We just recently finished cleaning before the pasture will start and we are still raking the cleared piles of bushes. We strengthened the squirrel colony with individuals from Murán. The ones you see there with some kind of pattern on their back are the new settlers. We shortened their hair with scissors, the lower part of which is black. In this way, they will have patterns by which we can recognize them and follow their fate. And the most important thing – whether they mate with local residents.
We invite you to see the photos of ground squirrels by the famous Hungarian photographer Maté Bence.
The ground squirrels, which were part of the first part of the captures on March 18-25, 2022, are already in their new homes and are obviously doing well.
Over the weekend we started with capture of ground squirrels at the Bratislava airport, these days we are continuing in the Slovak Kras and the Muránska planina will follow.
In recent days, our volunteers have been going to the Bratislava airport to feed the ground squirrels. Every roughly 20-30 meters they throw a little sunflower to get them used to going to these places. We are planning to catch ground squirrels there and transport them to other locations in order to strengthen several populations in southern and western Slovakia.
From several ground squirrels localities in Slovakia, they tell us that the squirrels are waking up.
Two donkeys from ZOO Bojnice arrived at Salaš Šurice last week. There is a territory of European importance, declared for the ground squirrel and several other rare and protected animals, called Owl's Castle.
In August, we prepared another fence for sheep grazing, so that ground squirrels would do better. This time, we have built more than 1 km of fencing in the village of Jesenské in the Cerova vrchovina, and grazing on the 4.4 hectares of ground squirrel locality can begin.
A fat ground squirrel, a healthy ground squirrel, this applies especially in this period before hibernation. Ground squirrels can weigh up to more than 500 g. In the spring, they weigh around 200 g. If you see a skinny ground squirrel during this late summer period, you are probably seeing him for the last time.
As part of the project, we are also carrying out genetic research, and at the same time we are strengthening localities where there are so few individuals and interbreeding would deffinetelly occur between them.
In Turna nad Bodvou, at the Skalistý potok location, there is the second largest forest site in Slovakia. Ground squirrels have settled here partly also in the alfalfa field. That field was recently plowed. The ground squirrels now have youngsters and plowing would kill them.
You can find out about the state of grazing ground squirrel populations in Slovakia, what their needs are and what threatens their ground squirrels in an article in Denník N. The article was illustrated by Monika Pascoe Mikyšková.
This September BROZ is starting two new projects which have been approvedby the European Comminison. Both LIFE projects aim to protect endangered species and restore their habitats. One of these projects will be dedicated to conserving the European ground squirrel which, a once common species which is now endangered due to habitat loss.
BROZ in cooperation with the local cooperative has begun to graze livestock on 18 hectare of land in Tisovský kras where the ground squirrel population has been on the decline due to inapopriate land management.
Project title: Conservation of European Ground Squirrel (Spermophillus citellus)
Project sector: LIFE+, Nature and Biodiversity
Projektový acronym: LIFE Ground Squirrel
Project code: LIFE19 NAT/SK/001069
Expected start date: 01/09/2020
Expected end date: 31/12/2027
Total project budget: 5 428 988 € (60 % EU financial contribution)
Project partners: BROZ, ALKA Wildlife o.p.s, Polskie Towarzystwo Ochrony Przyrody “Salamandra”, State Nature Conservancy of the Slovak Republic, National Zoological Garden Bojnice
The project is to contribute to the active protection of habitats of the endangered European ground squirrel species in selected localities in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland.
In Slovakia, in most localities in the Alpine and Pannonian regions, the quality of the European ground squirrel population, as well as its habitats, was assessed as unsatisfactory or even poor. The reason is usually the extinction of the habitat caused by a change in the management of the site (especially the abandonment of livestock grazing in the country). The situation is similar in the Czech Republic, in Poland the ground squirrel became extinct in the 1980s, the successful reintroduction of individuals from Slovakia has managed to settle more localities, but the overall population is poor.
Main goals of the project:
1. Restoration of habitats – cleaning of sites from raids, introduction of grazing
2. Strengthening the European ground squirrel population – securing a food base (sowing suitable plants, supporting insect species, planting fruit trees), caring for individual colonies, diverting the forward pressure by supporting other animal species
3. Reintroduction of ground squirrels to suitable sites where they have become extinct in the recent past
4. Cooperation with local interest groups, owners and users in the protection of the target species
5. Replication and transfer of project results
6. Raising public awareness of European ground squirrel protection.
European ground squirrel
It is an animal living in colonies, which needs an open landscape with low vegetation for its life. It suits him if the vegetation is kept low by grazing animals. He needs a look around for his life. Often, as soon as he climbs out of the burrow, he sticks out and observes his surroundings or stands on his hind legs and “sticks out”, like a meerkat or a marmot. He is in danger from several angles. It is a food for foxes, weasels, but also birds of prey – eagles, falcons, and hawks. The ground squirrel is a rodent that lives underground, where it builds a system of burrows that connect corridors with multiple openings. It feeds on grass seeds, green parts of plants, fruits, various insects (crickets, horses, beetles) and does not despise even small voles or lizards. In winter, it hibernates in underground burrows.
Of the common species endangered
The European ground squirrel was once a common species in Slovakia, but by gradually abandoning the grazing of livestock and overgrowing or ploughing suitable sites, its populations were reduced. So much so that the ground squirrel is currently an endangered species. Ground squirrels for changes in the agricultural landscape also suffer from a lack of food, as they feed on plant seeds, fruits and insects, which are difficult to find in the monoculture. Despite the widespread myth, ground squirrels do not steal grain from fields and do not stock up because they hibernate during the winter.
Project localities in Slovakia:
Kečovské Škrapy – Národný park Slovenský Kras (SKUEV0345)
Soví hrad – CHKO Cerová vrchovina (SKUEV0358)
Horný vrch – Národný park Slovenský Kras (SKUEV0356)
Fabiánka – Národný park Slovenský kras (SKUEV0355)
Mašianské sysľovisko – NP Slovenský raj (SKUEV0784)
Gavurky – CHA Gavurky (SKUEV0201)
Marcelovské piesky – PR Marcelovské piesky (SKUEV0065)
Bradlové pásmo (SKUEV0942)
Specific conservation activities
Restoration of European ground squirrel habitats in Slovakia
We will improve the existing management in selected localities where ground squirrels occur naturally so far. In the vicinity of these sites, we will create other suitable places where the colony can spread (we will clean them of overgrown trees, introduce pasture, change the land to grassland, etc.). Thanks to these measures, we will create at least 190 hectares of new habitats for grazing ground squirrels.
Strengthening and increasing the state of the ground squirrel population in Slovakia
The activity includes direct care for the colonies of ground squirrels – feeding, sowing plants that are suitable for its food, planting fruit trees of early summer varieties, support measures for animal components of food – especially for insects on which the ground squirrel feeds. As part of the activity, we will also implement measures to support the population of other species in localities so as to provide predators with more food and thus reduce predation pressure in the beginning.
Restitution of the European ground squirrel to localities where it occurred naturally in the past
In many areas of European importance in Slovakia, where the ground squirrel is the subject of protection, this species is unfortunately no longer found or its occurrence has been limited to only one or two colonies. At 10 such sites, where populations have disappeared or are disappearing, the transfer of individuals and the re-establishment of the colony will take place. The selection of sites will be preceded by long-term preparation and will be selected based on the possible implementation of other managements to improve the state of populations.
Habitat restoration and population strengthening in Poland
Habitat restoration and measures to increase and improve the stock of the European ground squirrel population in Poland will be implemented on a total area of 22 ha.
Mgr. Katarína Tuhárska – project manager email@example.com +421 915 767 762
Currently, there are no volunteer activities in localities where we protect ground squirrels. We will inform you about such activities.