It’s Red Squirrel Week and The Wildlife Trusts are encouraging people in certain parts of the UK to keep an eye out for signs of these much-loved but critically endangered creatures.
Autumn is the perfect season to spot red squirrels, as they spend their time foraging for nuts to cache in their winter larder. However, to be in with a chance of glimpsing these rare russet beauties, you’ll need to visit a wood in one of just a handful of regions around the UK.
Once common throughout Britain, red squirrel populations have plummeted from around 3.5 million in the 1950s to just 120,000 today. Three quarters of our surviving native squirrels are confined to Scotland, while other strongholds remain in the Lake District and Northumberland, and a few isolated populations cling on in parts of Wales and Southern England. Conservationists blame the decline on disease, habitat loss and competition for resources with hardier, non-native grey squirrels.
Red squirrels are easily distinguishable from their grey counterparts due to their distinctive russet fur, smaller size and tufted ears. The arboreal mammals can also be identified by their chattering call, while gnawed pinecone husks scattered about the woodland floor are another indicator of their presence.
This autumn, our native nutkins have been thrown a lifeline with the launch of the first ever UK-wide red squirrel conservation programme. Backed by a £1.2 million Lottery Heritage grant and involving eight partner organisations, Red Squirrels United aims to protect and extend red squirrel habitats throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland through a range of conservation, education and communication activities.
Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: ‘Our beautiful native red squirrels deserve our protection in every part of the UK where they can still thrive. This investment will allow us to unite hundreds of people championing this charismatic creature into one UK force for good.’
To discover the best places to see red squirrels visit wildlifetrusts.org/go-nuts