17 May 2013

The return of the Red Squirrel

We are very lucky up here at the Basecamp to have so much wildlife on our doorstep. As I write this, looking out of the office window, I can see a red squirrel nibbling its way through the contents of our squirrel feeder… Since putting out this feeder, we have seen a large increase in red squirrel activity up here. Some days we can see 3 at a time…

A Red Squirrel chomping away on some Monkey Nuts 
Red squirrels have seen a major decline over recent years in the UK. This is mostly due to the introduction of the North American grey squirrel. They were brought here in 1876 for ornamental display in the grounds of stately homes. According to Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE), a red squirrel conservation partnership across the North of England, the UK’s red squirrel population has fallen from 3.5 million to 120,000 since greys were first introduced. In 1930, it became illegal to release a grey squirrel into the wild once the extent of the damage to our own native red squirrel population was realised… So we are mega chuffed that they are beginning to make a comeback!

Why are grey squirrels a threat to red squirrels?

Grey squirrels have managed to dominate for a number of reasons. They are a carrier of the ‘Squirrelpox virus’, which is harmful to red squirrels. Grey squirrels can also live in denser populations than reds (up to 15 per hectare, compared to a red squirrel habitat of 2 -3 per hectare – that’s the size of a football pitch!). So as you might expect, this reduces the food supply all round, leaving our own native reds to starve and allowing greys to take over…

So how can you tell the difference between a red and a grey squirrel?

There are a few notable differences to keep an eye out for. Reds have tufts on their ears most of the year round (apart from a small period of moulting in late summer) whilst greys do not. Their tails are always one colour, compared to the multiple colours on a grey squirrel’s tail. Red squirrels are notably smaller than grey squirrels. Red squirrels have a head and body length of 19-23cm compared to a grey’s 25-30cm.

Coat colour is not always the best indicator as colour can vary geographically and squirrels moult twice a year making distinguishing them difficult. The RSNE would love for you to report your red squirrel sightings on their website. See details below.

Having a playful time around the Ash pollard in the Basecamp grounds… spot the red climbing up the tree!

We think it is great that we have more red squirrels around here. We have plans to film our red squirrels and find out more about what they get up to! Our facebook page is always being updated with the exploits of our red squirrels, so be sure to ‘like us’ to find out more! 
 Go to our NT High Wray Facebook page

You can also find out more about red squirrels on the Red Squirrels Northern England website: http://www.rsne.org.uk/ 

Post  by Clair


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