Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Red and the Grey

Today is the first day of Red Squirrel week here in the UK. Red Squirrel numbers have been depleted over the years as their woodland habitats have disappeared and they have become threatened by disease and the overwelming strength of their rival grey squirrel. The population in the UK is this year estimated to be only around 160,000. Although red squirrels can live in any mixed woodland habitat they tend now to live only where there are extensive conifer or pine forests as these are hard for the grey squirrel to survive in; only the reds eat pine cones. They are also affected by the fact that as forest areas become spread apart they cannot move easily from area to area. Some conservation groups are creating corridors of movement to help the situation. There are still thriving communities of red squirrels in the south of the country on the Isle of Wight and on Brownsea island; others are found in the north on Anglesey, on the Lancashire coast, in the Yorkshire Dales and in Scotland. I remember as a child seeing red squirrels whilst on holiday in Cornwall and the New Forest but I hadn't seen any for ages until we visited the National Trust Reserve at Formby in Lancashire a couple of years ago. The photo below was taken there.

The Formby squirrels are very friendly and are quite used to people wandering around. They are a lovely, glossy, conker brown rather than the rich copper red I remember from the squirrels I saw as a child and in photos I've seen of those in Scotland. Unlike the grey squirrel, the red doesn't hibernate in the winter. Not that the greys seem to do much hibernating nowadays as the winters are so much milder than they used to be. We often see our local grey squirrels dashing around in the depths of winter. The red squirrels are also in danger from squirrelpox a disease deadly to them which is carried and passed on by the non-native greys who were introduced to this country at the beginning of the 20th century. I always find it sad that one lovely species, just because it has been misplaced by man's interference, has the ability to endanger another lovely species. I love the red squirrels but I'm almost equally as fond of the greys but you can see from the photo below, taken in our local park earlier this year, how much stronger the grey squirrel looks than our lovely native red. Thank heavens for all those conservationists who are helping the red squirrel keep a foothold in its native land. Here is a link to find out more about their activities.


  1. Hi there..the red squirrels are beautiful..I love them.
    The greys, on the other hand, are real pests! I don't like them at all! When we first moved to our present house, we were inundated with grey squirrels... all over the bird tables, window sills,etc etc.It was awful!!It must have been a good year for breeding. ;-)

  2. I have never seen a red squirrel in the real. They look so beautiful with their tufty ears! Come to think of it, I haven't seen much in the way of grey squirrels recently either. We definitely have our share of foxes where I live though. No matter what the time of day or night they can be seen in the garden, road and surrounding streets.

  3. I love red squirrels and went to the Lake District Centre Parcs this summer hoping to see some. It is a red squirrel refuge with between 100-150 living there. You guessed it! I didn't see a single one whilst I was there. I was very disapointed. My son and his girlfriend who were with us did see one. So we know at least one is hiding in the Whinfell Forest.

  4. Grey squirrels are the bane of Edward's existence. He has yet to catch one, but never tires of the attempt. We did see a red squirrel or two the last time we were in Scotland. I found them so lovely, and you're so right, they seem much more delicate than the rough and ready greys. I love their ears, too.
    Thank heavens for conservationists!

  5. Hi Rosie,
    What an informative post.
    I love the red squirrels. I sometimes used to see an odd one when I took our previous greyhound Clive for a walk next to the River Wansbeck in Northumberland. Always a rare sighting which made it so special.
    I knew they were in the forest here in Sweden. Our friend feeds them in the winter and I have a lovely photo of one peeping out of the food bucket. But again sightings were rare. However now that our 2 greyhounds Jewel and Rufus have seen them, they often stand looking up into the trees squirrel spotting. And if I follow their line of sight I will often see one too.

  6. They are realy funny little creatures, I am so very lucky to have them in my garden!
    We even did see a little baby with his mom(or dad) this summer.
    We,together with our next door neighbours gave them names..Eduard and Elvira,we stil have to figure out a name for the baby!
    I will post some more pictures of them on my garden blog.
    Thank you for this information about the Red Squirrel week!

  7. I did not know about red squirrel week so thanks for the information. Like you, I am fond of both species and refuse to think of the grey as a tree rat. We saw red squirrels in Austria, they were very tame and would eat out of your hand. Some of them were very dark sable brown and some orange/ red. That is a great photo!

  8. We have no squirrels here in Australia so it is a delight to see them overseas, red or grey.I had no idea numbers were down for red squirrels, and to learn that grey squirrels could be pesty. Some of our delightful native animals are also seen as pests, ie possums in the roof! Not a good thing!

  9. thanks for all your comments and for your squirrel anecdotes:)

    sal - we know someone who had squirrels nibble through their electric wires! simone - we have a foxy visitor too:) rosie - how dissapointing not to see a red squirrel. Edward - keep trying ;)
    lynne and dutchess how lucky you are to have the red ones in and nearby your gardens! valerie and pam - I don't like to think of the greys as pests either:)