by Countryside Alliance

Where to see the native red squirrel for Red Squirrel Awareness Week 2020 - running from 21st to 27th September. The week aims to highlight the animals’ plight and celebrate the wonderful work of volunteer groups, organisations and projects striving to save them.

Sir David Attenborough’s ‘Extenction: The Facts’ documentary outlined the dangers of extinction for wildlife globally. The red squirrel has become a symbol of the gradual loss of Britain’s native species.

The last 5 remaining corners of England that red squirrels can be found have been named as:

  1. Cumbria 
  2. Northumberland
  3. Formby, Lancashire
  4. the Isle of Wight
  5. Brownsea Island, Dorset

Red-Squirrel-Population-Map.jpg

Red squirrels were recently named by The Mammal Society as being on the Red List of Britain’s endangered mammals. It’s estimated that the population is less than 40,000 in England, all of which are only found in 5 remaining areas nationwide.

With late summer travellers looking to the British countryside this year, there’s a surge of interest in spotting the increasingly rare native species on home shores. Many of the sites across the North are within easy driving distance of Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle, while those living in London and the South need to travel a little further with the closest being the Isle of Wight or Dorset.

Wildlife expert Sean McMenemy at Ark Wildlife shares his tips for the best walks to see red squirrels, how to encourage red squirrels in your garden, and causes to support...

Where are the best places to go on a red squirrel forest and woodland walk?

Northumberland

  1. Northumberland, Hauxley (captured on trail cameras on a feeder near the visitor centre) 
  2. Northumberland, East Cramlington Pond, Holystone North Wood, Holystone Burn
  3. Northumberland, Tony’s Patch (regular sightings)
  4. Northumberland, Juliet’s Wood, Briarwood Banks (both rare sightings)
  5. Allen Banks and Staward Gorge, Northumberland  
  6. Cragside, Northumberland  
  7. Wallington, Northumberland  

Cumbria

  1. Cumbria, Smardale Gill (a premier nature reserve for spotting reds)
  2. Cumbria, Wreay Woods
  3. Aira Force, Cumbria 
  4. Allan Bank and Grasmere, Cumbria

Lancashire

  1. Lancashire, Freshfield Dune Heath & Formby (frequent sightings in the woodland)

Dorset

  1. Dorset, Brownsea Island nature reserve (a strong population of red squirrels; one of only two populations in southern England)

Isle of Wight

  1. Isle of Wight, Bouldnor Forest (no introduced grey squirrels - reds thrive here)
  2. Borthwood Copse, Isle of Wight  

How can you catch a glimpse of a red squirrel?

How can you best increase your chances of seeing the wild mammal when visiting the conservation areas? Rachael Cripps, Red Squirrel Project Officer at The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, shares her tips:

“When out in the woods, take the time to sit and listen. When you are quiet you will often hear a squirrel before you see it – running up a tree trunk, munching on pine cone, the thud of eaten pine cone cores falling from the canopy or chattering loudly at your presence. If people have them visiting their garden, ensure feed is only supplementary. Provide good variety and clean feeders regularly. Providing fresh water during hot weather is especially important.

Report sightings of reds and greys to your local Red Squirrel Group or become a volunteer. There are also plenty of opportunities from surveying to fundraising that will help.”

Why are red squirrel populations now particularly at risk?

The red squirrel population faces increasing pressure from habitat loss, competition for food with non-native grey squirrels, and the Squirrelpox virus which is fatal to red squirrels but can be carried by greys without causing them any harm.

UK garden wildlife products and supply company Ark Wildlife are the only supplier of red squirrel food in the UK and provide it to charities to support them in protecting the species. Sean McMenemy, Director at Ark Wildlife, says:

“At Ark Wildlife we’ve seen ongoing demand for red squirrel food from charities across the UK, and many of our customers are keen to help red squirrels wherever possible. It’s encouraging to see this level of concern from the public, charities and action groups, as well as the work that Prince Charles does to take care of red squirrels around his estate in Scotland.

It’s shocking that when last surveyed, only 5% of people in Britain had ever seen a red squirrel in their garden. This is a native mammal that was once prevalent right across the country, and the figure is likely to be even lower today. As well as competition from grey squirrels, loss of habitat is one of the main issues affecting red squirrels. If you're lucky enough to live in one of the areas where red squirrels are still around, supporting them with red squirrel food can go a long way to supplementing their diet - but remember you’re not replacing it. Red squirrels should always be encouraged to forage for food.”

Support wildlife and red squirrel charities

Heinz Traut, Project Manager at Red Squirrels Northern England, highlights the importance of the conservation community and volunteers in protecting red squirrels:

”The reason that we have not seen the drastic historic decline of red squirrel range in the North of England, as in the rest of the country, is only thanks to the dedicated effort of the collective conservation community (85% of effort by volunteer groups), so it requires people to take action. his could be helping in a variety of different ways, in the woods, at your desk or in the community that you live in.

Charities to support the UKs Red Squirrel populations include:

  1. Red Squirrels Northern England
  2. The Red Squirrel Survival Trust
  3. The Wildlife Trusts
  4. UK Squirrel Accord
  5. Red Squirrels United

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