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Help Save red squirrels and trees in Lancashire and Merseyside

A call has gone out to landowners, volunteers and organisations across Lancashire and Merseyside to help save endangered red squirrels and safeguard trees from grey squirrel damage.

The UK Squirrel Accord (UKSA) is seeking help from interested parties to expand the existing network of grey squirrel management across Lancashire. Each year grey squirrel tree bark stripping costs England and Wales at least £37 million. Greys also outcompete our native red squirrels for food and habitat, and many carry a virus that is harmless to them but mostly fatal to reds.

Thanks to funding from the Forestry Commission, UKSA is running a pilot project in the 3 counties until March 2025. New networks will be set up to raise awareness, reduce grey squirrel numbers and engage landowners and volunteers. Those involved will receive training and mentoring on humane management methods and support for establishing local conservation groups.

In Lancashire and on Merseyside, small red squirrel populations still survive. There are also various tree planting projects to provide important benefits for wildlife and people. It is hoped the UKSA project will increase tree protection and help local red populations expand.

While red squirrels are native to Britain, greys were introduced from North America between 1876 and 1929 for ornamental purposes. Once found in great numbers, red squirrels are now endangered in Britain as only around 287,000 remain. However, there are an estimated 2.7 million greys.

Landowners, organisations or individuals wishing to become involved should contact the UKSA project officers directly at:- SquirrelOfficers@SquirrelAccord.UK.

UKSA and supporters are also funding work to develop a fertility control for grey squirrels, which is currently being researched by the Government's Animal and Plant Health Agency. It is hoped this non-lethal method will provide an effective and less labour-intensive option to reduce grey squirrel numbers so we can protect reds and young broadleaf trees.

Kay Haw, the director of the UKSA partnership, said:- "We hope this project will help increase red squirrel protection, enabling population recovery, and ensure young broadleaf trees flourish to become our healthy woods of the future."

Rebecca Isted, squirrel policy advisor for the Forestry Commission, said:- "Damage from grey squirrels to our vulnerable tree species, like beech and oak, is a significant problem. Too much damage and the trees can die, so we are supporting the project officers to help spread this message. We hope this project will encourage local communities to help reduce the impact grey squirrels have on their woodlands and trees."

Mike Denbury, the Project Manager for Red Squirrels Northern England, said:- "We are delighted to support the new UKSA project officers. Reports from stakeholders, the volunteer community and spring surveys indicate that red squirrels are starting to increase their range in Lancashire and in Merseyside. We look forward to working with the project."

FSB outlines small business priorities ahead of Liverpool City Region Mayoral election

THE UK's leading small business membership organisation, the Federation of Small Businesses, has outlined 5 key priorities to support small firms ahead of the local elections on:- Thursday, 2 May 2024, which will see the public vote for the Mayor of Liverpool City Region.

FSB represents some 160,000 small firms across the UK and is a cross-party, non-partisan organisation working with Mayors, Councillors, MPs, peers and elected representatives from all major political parties.

FSB is member-led and regularly surveys its members; including via its nationally respected quarterly Small Business Index (SBI) to identify the challenges faced by small businesses.

Within the Liverpool City Region the organisation routinely holds local roundtables, peer to peer support groups and networking sessions. Its 2023 Entrepreneurial North Report brings together ideas from small business owners right across the North to form a clear and cohesive approach to supporting entrepreneurialism and reducing Regional inequalities.

FSB's Area Leader for Liverpool City Region, Michael Sandys, has written to all candidates standing for role of Liverpool City Region Mayor outlining 5 key principles to support small businesses in Liverpool City Region. They are:-

  1. Think small 1st - listen to small businesses:-

    It is often assumed that strategies benefitting larger companies will automatically address the issues of small firms, but this is often not the case. Start-ups, small businesses and socially trading enterprises across key sectors and different boroughs are all important and have specific problems, the solutions to which can only be identified and implemented via effective consultation with them and the organisations representing them.

    It is important that Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and our local Councils embrace a:- 'think small first' approach and that FSB, the FSB chaired Liverpool City Region Business Group and the major business membership organisations are consulted with fully; including:- representation on committees and boards dedicated to business and skills support, economic growth and funding.

  2. Help businesses recover from the cost of doing business crisis:-

    Small businesses still reeling from the Covid pandemic are being hit hardest by the cost of living crisis. Energy bills and other overheads are at unsustainable levels, and high interest rates, rising finance costs and mounting late payments of invoices are damaging cash flow, investment intentions and confidence. FSB's latest SBI shows that Hospitality businesses, so important to the economy, are suffering more than most.

    This pain could be eased providing more access to public sector procurement for small and micro businesses, ensuring prompt public sector payment benefits businesses throughout the supply chain (and avoiding poor practices such as Council demands for:- 'settlement discounts' from businesses in exchange for paying on time), supporting town centres and high streets by activities to increase footfall, reducing car parking charges and tolls and improving access business rates relief. FSB is also encouraging the Mayor and Councillors to work with Merseyside Police, the Police Crime Commissioner and other agencies to reduce business crime and its associated costs.

  3. Enable small firms to meet net zero and sustainability ambitions:-

    The majority of small business owners believe the planet is facing a climate crisis and many have already put in place a plan to reduce their carbon footprint. As part of its pathway to net zero, which includes exciting projects such as:- HyNet and Mersey Tidal, FSB believes Liverpool City Region Combined Authority should support and incentivise these businesses to go further and encourage others to take 1st steps towards a more sustainable future; including:- support installing install energy efficient appliances and retrofitting buildings, switching to a renewable energy tariff / provider, increasing recycling and reducing waste.

    Information and advice will be key in helping business owners understand how they can make a difference, and communicating the value of sustainability to their bottom line when, at present, many experience additional costs associated with recycling and other green initiatives. Providing the infrastructure to facilitate the transition to a green economy, including adequate charging points for electrical vehicles, is also important.

    Care must be taken to avoid adding unreasonable costs and placing additional burdens on small businesses wherever possible, for example in the implementation of future Deposit Return Schemes to recycle more plastic, and continuing the current:- 'no charge' policy with regard to Clean Air zones (CAZ), which would be a regressive business tax at a time businesses can least afford it.

  4. Ensure Liverpool City Region has the right infrastructure in place to meet the needs of businesses, particularly post HS2:-

    The transition from cars can only be achieved following improvements to public transport, the unreliability, unavailability and cost of which is often not considered practical for many small businesses and their employees. New train stations, modernised rolling stock, new busses and more represents progress, but we would like to see further measures to improve access to public transport and its affordability.

    This small business scepticism is exacerbated by the decision to cancel HS2. The future of rail services in the North looks more uncertain than any time in the past decade, and the underlying message to the people of the North is that, yet again, our Region was at the back of the queue for fair public transport funding.

    There are increasing discussions around what is to replace HS2 in the guise of Network North; but this has so far been vaguely defined and, to date, is un-costed. FSB believes the next Mayor must place it front and centre as a priority in the hope something can be salvaged:- from the ashes of HS2, particularly the Northern Powerhouse Rail elements of Network North; improved East West connectivity across the North; which is what many local business owners want more than improved connections South.

    Roads remain the most important means of travelling across the Region for small businesses, their employees, customers and suppliers. Their effective maintenance is critical and, while some boroughs are forced to borrow for road upkeep, others are not spending their allocated budgets. FSB believes this situation is untenable and is willing to work with elected officials to secure more central funding, on 1 hand, and to ensure Councils spend the money earmarked for road repairs on the other.

    Road tolls are additional transport taxes that impact most severely on the smallest businesses. FSB would like a continuing dialogue to seek to reduce the impediment of taxes on people running a business, working or seeking to visit the area.

    In addition, many companies still experience connectivity issues and FSB believe that furthering Liverpool City Region's digital inclusion agenda, focusing on skills as well as infrastructure, is central to the optimal performance of workers and businesses now and in the future. To this end, we must ensure that all areas of the City Region experience the benefits of the rollout of 5G.

  5. Ensure the workforce has the necessary employment skills do drive growth:-

    Small businesses still cite a lack of work-ready skills in new starters fresh from education, including experience (paid or otherwise) and preparedness as much as foundational skills such as literacy and numeracy, as well as more specific or sectorial skills required by individual businesses and in other areas such as digital skills. The Covid pandemic has undoubtedly made a bad situation worse.

    There is also a skills shortage among entrepreneurs themselves, with leadership and management, sales and marketing skills frequently cited. It is only when business owners and their staff are equipped with the right skills can their enterprise grow.

    Devolution in Liverpool City Region is paving a new way forward for post-16 education, but it will take some time for the results to be delivered. Going forward, FSB would like to see some form of formalised work experience, better access to apprenticeships and T-levels and improved relationships between businesses and education providers to better influence the content of courses. In addition, we would welcome work to promote careers in self-employment in Schools, Colleges and elsewhere.

FSB Area Leader for Liverpool City Region, Michael Sandys, said:- "Small businesses account for around of employment and approximately 50% of private sector turnover. They are integral to Liverpool City Region's economy and the wellbeing of our communities. Local authorities are hugely important in cultivating education and skills that drive business and employment growth, providing effective systems of business support, building good transport and digital communications links, developing infrastructure, empowering entrepreneurialism and skills in our diverse communities and more. It is important that the Mayor of Liverpool embraces our 5 key principles and works with FSB to make Liverpool City Region a leading place in which to start and grow a business. In particular, we need to forge a successful business support ecosystem, all the more important given that the future of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which ends in March 2025, remains uncertain; we need certainly clarity from all parties that, whoever forms the next Government, funding for business support will be there."

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