IELTS® Listening Practice 96

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(Section 4: You will hear a talk on the topic of red squirrel conservation. First, you will have some time to look at questions 31 to 40 [20 seconds]. Listen carefully and answer questions 31 to 40.)


Good afternoon and welcome to today's lecture on red squirrel conservation in the UK.

The red squirrel is the UK's only native squirrel species, and was once a common sight across the UK. But for decades they've been in decline. Today, red squirrels are sadly absent from most of the UK, affected by the spread of the introduced non-native grey squirrel.

Red squirrels live in coniferous forests and deciduous woods in Europe and northern Asia. Their range extends from the UK, Ireland and Western Europe to Russia, Mongolia, and northwest China. Numbers in the UK have fallen dramatically since grey squirrels were introduced as an ornamental species in the 1870s.

Since then, the UK population of reds has dropped from around 3.5 million to between 120,000 to 160,000 individuals, according to different estimates. The population in England is thought to be as low as 15,000. Population strongholds are Scotland, Northumberland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Lake District as well as on islands such as Brownsea. By the way, if you want to see them in the wild, prime spotting times are morning and late afternoon because that's when they're most active.

The red squirrel is officially classed as 'near threatened' in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but is locally common in Scotland. The main cause behind their decline, as I mentioned previously, is the introduction of grey squirrels from America. There are three main reasons why greys are a threat. Firstly, grey squirrels carry a disease, squirrel parapox virus, which does not appear to affect their health but often kills red squirrels. Also, grey squirrels are more likely to eat green acorns, so will decimate the food sources before reds get to them. Reds can't digest mature acorns, so can only eat green acorns. And, when red squirrels are put under pressure they will not breed as often. Another huge factor in their decline is the loss of woodland over the last century, but road traffic and predators are also threats, too.

Red squirrels are recognisable by their red to russet fur, ear tufts and long, fluffy tails. But the colour of their coats can vary with some reds appearing very grey (and some grey squirrels can have red fur down their backs and on their feet). Reds have small ear tufts that can develop into large tufts in the winter.

Red squirrels are very elusive and spend much of their time in the tree canopy. Ways to spot them include looking out for large dreys in trees, scratch marks on bark, and chewed pine cones that look like chewed apple cores. It is also helpful to listen for their 'chuk chuk' noise, which is a vocalisation they often use.

Red squirrels have a mainly vegetarian diet that includes seeds, hazelnuts and green acorns, fungus, bark, and sapwood. They also occasionally take animal prey such as young birds and eggs. They especially favour pine seeds, but also eat larch and spruce seeds. Because they disperse seeds, they play a vital role in the reforestation process.

Reds do not hibernate and store fungi in trees to eat over the winter months. When food is plentiful, they put on weight in the autumn to help them through the winter. This is important for breeding females, so that they are in good condition for producing young in the spring.


Red squirrels usually produce 2-3 young, called kittens, in February to April and they often produce a second litter from May to June. Outside of the mating season, red squirrels tend to live alone, but in early spring, watch out for their courtship displays in the trees. Babies are born 45-48 days after mating, and are looked after by their mothers. Kittens are weaned around 10 weeks when they develop a complete set of teeth. Some stay with their mothers over winter. Between 20 and 50 percent of red squirrel kittens survive to adulthood. 

There are projects across Britain to develop long-term conservation strategies that deter greys and encourage reds. They include… 

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