Within the EU, the Siberian flying squirrel (Pteromys volans) is found in Finland and Estonia where it has unfavourable-inadequate conservation status. The squirrel is present at over 450 sites within the Natura 2000 network in Finland, but mainly inhabits suitable sites in commercial forests and urban areas across two-thirds of the country's length. In Estonia, it is found only in the north-east corner, inhabiting less than 50 separate forest patches.
The species' main threat is the loss and fragmentation of its habitat, mainly related to the effects of land use. The squirrel is listed in annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive which means core areas of its habitat must be managed in accordance with the ecological needs of the species and a strict protection regime must be applied across its entire natural range in the EU, both within and outside Natura 2000 sites. However, as the squirrel inhabits economically valuable forests, conflicts between interests are unavoidable. Moreover, its presence is often unexpected and knowledge on how to maintain essential forest areas is limited, both of which can cause delays in land use and unfavourable attitudes towards the squirrel.
The Flying Squirrel LIFE project's main goal is to improve the conservation status of the Siberian flying squirrel to favourable in Europe. It aims to increase the population in Finland from 100 000 to 150 000-200 000 and for occupied habitats in Estonia to rise from 49 to a minimum of 60, with at least 250-350 individuals in total. Flying Squirrel LIFE's specific objectives are to: Prevent habitat loss and fragmentation; Increase cooperation among key stakeholders relating to the squirrel and develop tools for fluent land-use planning; Improve the quality and availability of data on the squirrel; Increase the exchange of information between different stakeholders and the general public, and boost social approval of the squirrel’s conservation.
Expected results: Protection of approximately 26 ha of squirrel habitat by purchasing land from private owners; Improvement of habitats and connectivity of habitats at 22 sites in urban areas (almost 1 400 ha), including four within Natura 2000 sites; Maintenance of around 1 570-1 950 ha of habitat networks by forest management (170-550 ha in Finland, minimum of 1 400 ha in Estonia); Improved continuity of aspen in 16 sites (almost 230 ha), 10 within and six outside Natura 2000 sites; Installation of 250 nest boxes to facilitate squirrel reproduction and improve survival within Natura 2000 sites; Implementation of observation management system in Finland and a national flying squirrel inventory in Estonia (assisted by trained dogs); Development of predictive maps illustrating the habitat network across the squirrel's range in the EU; Best practice guidelines drawn up for urban areas to protect the squirrel within the goals of other land use; Knowledge gathered for real decision-making from monitoring 22 city plans (covering an area of more than 1 070 ha), including a habitat network evaluation ofthe city plan for Espoo (area, 31 km2); An optimised habitat network will be illustrated for the city of Jyväskylä (covering 147 km2). This involves habitat modelling to yield predictions, which are verified with radiotelemetry. The illustrated habitat network will then be used in real city planning processes; and Education package for the forestry sector to maintain the squirrel in managed forests.