Ground Squirrels are a Sign of a Spring Approaching
With the first warmer days, rare European ground squirrels (Spermophilus citellus) slowly wake up from their winter sleep. Last week they were seen, for example, in the area of Radouč on the outskirts of Mladá Boleslav. Ground squirrels often get ready for hibernation in the late summer. While some females fall asleep as early as August, the young often do not fall asleep until October. They do not wake up during the winter and get the necessary energy only from the accumulated fat. In spring, they usually weigh up to a third less than in late summer. In the territory of the Czech Republic, European ground squirrels currently live in only four dozen places.
The most numerous ground squirrel colonies can be found in the area of Mladá Boleslav, namely at Radouč and Bezděčín airfield. Other colonies are located in České středohoří PLA, near the town of Kladno, at the Velká Dobrá airfield, or in Miroslav, which is located in South Moravian Region of Znojmo.
"European ground squirrel is one of the critically endangered and therefore the most protected species of the Czech nature. In the past, people hunted it and purposefully exterminated it as an agricultural pest. The numbers of ground squirrels were also decreasing due to changes in farming in the countryside. The number of places ground squirrels could self-populate thus decreased. It brought the ground squirrel to the brink of extinction," says Tereza Brzobohatá from the Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic, who coordinates the European ground squirrel action plan.
"The action plan has been running since 2008. It also includes an annual inspection and mapping of all known sites where this rodent occurs. Last year, there were 42 of them, and the total estimate of the number of ground squirrels reached approximately 8,000 animals. Though, in the first year of the action plan, there was not even half of the current population. Our effort was not in vain then," says Jan Matějů from the Karlovy Vary Museum, one of the authors of the action plan.
"The places where ground squirrels live need to be taken care of. They prefer low grass. When it is too high, they do not have an overview of the surroundings and can be caught by some predator, such as a bird of prey or a cat," Tereza Brzobohatá explains. Therefore, in cooperation with landowners and tenants, the grass is regularly mowed. "We are pleased that people are mostly happy for ground squirrels on their land and that they want to participate in their protection," she adds.
"Action plan help preserve rare species of plants and animals in our landscape. We now already have twelve such plans and more are being prepared. Thanks to the programs we managed to save Dianthus arenarius subsp. bohemicus, we have increased the population of ground squirrels or Aesculapian snakes. The plans do not only benefit to the species for which they are prepared. They often consist in the support of the management respecting the nature, in other words, the management that improves the conditions for other plants and animals, “concludes František Pelc, director of the Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic.
Photo: Tereza Brzobohatá