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 Home>>British Animals>>The Red Squirrel

The Red Squirrel, Our Native Squirrel  

The number of red squirrels (Sciurus Vulgaris) found within our British forests has been declining for the last 100 years. The Red is in fact Britain’s only native squirrel and its major decline in population is mostly due to the introduction of its pushy North American cousin, the Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Following its arrival into England in 1876 the Grey has become incredibly successful. With a diet that consists of mostly all nuts, fruits and seeds grown upon our trees and a bolshy, robust attitude to collecting food, it is no surprise that the quieter and slender Red Squirrel finds itself at a disadvantage. Add to this the break up of their woodland habitat and spread of disease within the species, the Red has found itself on the UK Endangered Species List and without conservation could become extinct within the next 20 to 30 years.

To gain a glimpse of this endearing native Briton you would have to travel to one of the lucky but limited surviving areas. In England these include Brownsea Island off Dorset, the Isle of Wright or Thetford Forest in Norfolk and there is a reasonable population in Northern England where the Grey Squirrel has yet to become established. A few thousand are found in Wales and they are still common in parts of Scotland. Over all the UK population is around 150,000.

The Red Squirrel inhabits deciduous woodland, favouring the mature Scots pine wood. They will spend a lot of time high within the branches, eat an assortment of seeds, buds, shoots, nuts and berries and build nests, dreys, to sleep and breed. Squirrels are diurnal therefore are mostly active during the day, having a quick snooze in the afternoon. They come to the ground briefly to forage for food, particularly in the autumn months to collect nuts to store for winter. They do have a few natural predators that share their woodland habitat, and will spend their time in the trees to avoid the hungry fox or bird of prey.

The Red Squirrel will produce two litters of kittens throughout a good year, one usually in spring and then another in late summer. There are on average 3 kittens in a litter, and they are born within a soft, thick, grassy drey. The survival of the young depends upon the amount of food available that season and if all is well at seven weeks they will start to venture into the forest and become independent. If the squirrels fall upon a bad winter, cannot feed well and cannot build up their fat reserves, those who do not die of starvation or disease through the cold months will not breed well the next season and the population is effected.

The Grey Squirrel is a perfect example of how man can introduce an alien species into an area to the detriment of our native wildlife, and without conservation efforts we could lose the Red Squirrel to the British Isles forever.

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