Ladies and Gentlemen,
I did just want to say first of all that we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Lord and Lady Inglewood for helping to make this event possible and for letting us invade their premises like this.
It’s wonderful to see so many local groups represented here. It’s been a great joy to go around and meet many of you and the fact that we so many representatives from across the North of England. Those who are working so hard to protect red squirrels in Cumbria, Northumberland, Northern region of County Durham, Lancashire and the North Western corner of North Yorkshire, really does, I think, demonstrate just how much involvement and enthusiasm there is now amongst so many wonderful volunteers. And the fact that you seem to manage to recruit even more in the last two years or so, since I was here in 2009, is hugely encouraging. So having been up here to launch the Red Squirrels Survival Trust two or three years ago, it is marvellous and I know how many of you have such a struggle to make progress in this area. But I do think that in that time the Red Squirrels Survival Trust has managed to make a certain amount of progress, which is in no small part thanks to the efforts of Miles Barne and Andrew Kendall. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude as well as Dr. Craig Shuttleworth who sadly isn’t here to join us today.
Now Ladies and Gentlemen, the R.S.S.T. is all about fostering partnerships. Partnerships between voluntary organizations, Government Agencies and local communities. It is only by working together that we will have a chance of preserving this most iconic of species.
If I may say so, the level of coordination that you have all managed to achieve is remarkable and I just want to use this opportunity to congratulate you all most warmly.
However, special mention perhaps needs to be made of those who help pay for it all. So I am delighted that the Forestry Commission, Natural England and the Wildlife Trusts, of which I happen to be Patron, are all helping this project to succeed.
I have been lucky enough to follow the world-class work on Anglesey of Craig Shuttleworth who really is extraordinary in terms of his energy and commitment. So the importance of a strong scientific base for all this work cannot be underestimated or indeed understated over overstated. Craig will need all your support in collecting data and keeping accurate records if we are to be able to demonstrate real success.
Now I don’t need to encourage all of you to step up to the crease as it were in all this. But I did just want to remind you of the wonderful progress which we are making with the Red Squirrel.
Reds are now returning to the woodlands and gardens where they were once terrorized by greys and this, in certain areas, I think, is something to celebrate. Obviously there are other more difficult areas still to deal with.
My dream is that Red Squirrels might thrive throughout the United Kingdom and it is here in the North of England that perhaps we can dare to think this might become a reality, thanks to people like yourselves.
I must say it was a great pleasure just now to be given a sculpture of my namesake, Charles the Squirrel. I just wanted to say Sarah McNeil, who brought up Charles when she rescued him and then wrote to me about it and sent a photograph, has done a fantastic job. My great ambition is to have one in the house, I hate to tell you. Sitting on the breakfast table and on my shoulder!
So ladies and gentlemen two years ago I said that I thought the Red Squirrel could be our national mascot. If we save this iconic species, then there is just a chance that this might actually happen.
Thank you all and I do hope you’ll keep up the wonderful work and recruit even more volunteers and controllers.