AN academic is asking members of the public to report their black squirrel sightings in Bedfordshire.
The first recorded spotting of the non-native species was in Woburn 100 years ago, and a study at Anglia Ruskin University is taking place to monitor how far they have spread.
The Black Squirrel Project is being led by life sciences lecturer Helen McRobie, and anyone who has spotted one of the critters can record the sighting www.blacksquirrelproject.org
It is believed tblack squirrels living in the UK all came from a dozen that were released from a private collection in Bedfordshire.
Black squirrels, which originate from North America, are the same species as grey squirrels, and scientists at the university say black specimens have a piece of DNA missing on a gene that produces pigment, meaning they can only produce black fur.
Ms McRobie said: “Black squirrel numbers seem to have risen steadily over the years and they have been spotted in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, as well as Bedfordshire.
“Although we know black squirrels are spreading, as yet we don’t have evidence that they are living elsewhere in the British Isles. “As it stands we know that the black squirrel gene has travelled approximately 50 miles in the last 100 years, which equates to half a mile a year.
“The aim of the Black Squirrel Project is to gather data on the geographical range of the grey and black squirrel in the British Isles, and the data may help explain why the grey squirrel has proved to be such a successful invader in the UK.
“Therefore it would be great if as many people as possible can visit the website and submit their sightings.”