‘Rusty’ the squirrel first on Peace Bridge!

A local wildlife expert says Derry's red squirrel population could completely disappear
A local wildlife expert says Derry's red squirrel population could completely disappear

Was cheeky ‘Rusty’ the squirrel the first pedestrian to cross Derry’s new Peace Bridge?

Well that’s what staff at Derry Visitor and Convention though when the lively red squirrel arrived at their office on the West Bank of the River Foyle on Wednesday.

Nicknamed ‘Rusty’, the bushy tailed animal is believed to be one of a population of around 50 which live in the Derry area - in St Columb’s Park, Prehen Woods, Muff Glen and Gransha Wood.

And as the tourism office is located only yards from the West Bank landing point of the new Peace Bridge it seems fair to assume that the little fella made his way from the Waterside on the £14m structure which is due to be opened to the public tomorrow.

He would then, of course, have had to negotiate the busy dual carriageway but that would have proven a doddle with a little help from his buddy ‘Tufty Fluffytail’ - the road safety squirrel from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents!

Elene Michaelides, of Derry Visitor and Convention Bureau, said staff were surprised by the arrival of the unannounced visitor. “It was running pretty fast and scurried under a couple of cars parked outside before heading for the coach park.

“We think there’s a big possibility he came over the new Peace Bridge from St Columb’s Park or Prehen Woods and we’d like to think he was first to cross the new bridge!”

Ms Michaelides added: “We welcome all kinds of tourists from all walks of life - even squirrels. In fact if he had have hung around long enough, I would have given him a guide book!”

The ‘Journal’ reported on Tuesday that a local monitoring group believes that only around 50 red squirrels - a protected species by law - remain in Derry.

Derry City Council’s biodiversity officer said: “The red squirrel population has declined rapidly in recent years due to the spread of and competition with the grey squirrel, disease, habitat loss and fragmentation.”