The Wildlife Trusts have been raising awareness for one of our most iconic native species during Red Squirrel Week (23 Sept – 1 Oct).
Once a common sight, red squirrels are now only found in certain areas of the UK, including forests in Scotland, Northern England, the Isle of Wight, islands in Poole Harbour, and a few places in Wales and Northern Ireland.
The red squirrel population has rapidly declined since the 1950’s with disease, the loss of woodland habitat and competition from grey squirrels – introduced by the Victorians in the 19th century – all having an impact. Red squirrel numbers have fallen from around 3.5 million to an estimated population of 120,000, of which 75% or more are in Scotland.
Conservation efforts include establishing buffer areas around the current red squirrel strongholds, control of grey squirrels, ongoing monitoring, and working with land owners and local communities helping to improve habitats for squirrels. In some cases, an increase in red squirrel numbers has been reported in and around these stronghold areas, thanks to coordinated community action.
There are lots of ways to get involved with red squirrel conservation, including volunteering, donating and surveying. Autumn is a great time of year to see red squirrels as they forage for nuts. Listen out for their chattering call while you are out in the woodland or forest, and look out for the gnawed husks. With their distinctive russet fur, tufted ears and twitching tail; red squirrels are a captivating sight.