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    Project LIFE Suseł for the conservation of the European ground squirrel in Poland

    Project LIFE Suseł is one of three examples of successful reintroduction of a mammal species in Poland! Its effect is the restoration of the European ground squirrel, which was extinct in our country at the end of the 20th century.

    Poland, together with Slovakia and the Czech Republic started the project in 2020. The main goal of the activities is to restore the Polish population of the European ground squirrel within its former range.

     

    The key activities are the restoration of the pastures and the implementation of appropriate grass mowing in the areas where the pasture is not possible.

     

    The European ground squirrel also suffers from diminished feeding possibilities due to changes in the agricultural land where plant seeds, fruits, and insects are becoming increasingly hard to find. Contrary to the widespread belief, ground squirrels do not steal seeds from the fields to stock for winter because they hibernate during the winter.

     

    Therefore, the partners of the project have increased the feeding opportunities for the ground squirrels by planting wild fruit trees and establishing flowering and oat patches

    Not long ago the European ground squirrel was a common species in Slovakia, even considered a pest as recently as 1960s. Due to the drastic changes in land use and agricultural practices the ground squirrel has lost much of it´s natural habitat to the point that the species has become endangered. Small populations now survive in few isolated localities. The same scenario has happened in in Czech Republic and Poland where the species has dissapeared from much of it´s former range. We have therefore joined forces with conservation colleagues from these countries in order to protect this species. 

    European ground squirrels are animals that do not come into conflict with humans. This is the so-called umbrella species – by protecting it, other organisms associated with dry grasslands are also protected, such as rare species of plants, insects, reptiles, and birds.

     

    For years, attempts have been made to rebuild its population. Ground squirrels, imported from Slovakia and Hungary, are artificially propagated and then moved to their natural habitats. Such activities are carried out by The Polish Society for Nature Protection “Salamandra” and Żubr Fund. Successfully, the European ground squirrel is gradually growing and today it has about 1.5 thousand individuals.

     

    However, the species is still critically endangered and needs constant support from naturalists. New places of living for these cute rodents must be created. One of the forms of protection for this endangered species has been used by The Polish Society for Nature Protection “Salamandra” and Żubr Fund. The organizations purchase land where the next generations of European ground squirrels live. Thanks to this, the project assures the continuation of the European ground squirrel in Poland. 

     

    Another form of support is raising awareness among society and organizing special events to encourage them to learn about ground squirrels. For example, in 2022 The Polish Society for Nature Protection “Salamandra” organized Suseł camps for kids. On two camps, the participants observed nature and made monitoring tests to count active burrows of the European ground squirrels in Kamień Śląski, Głębowice, and Jemielno.

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