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"Our Native Reds"

Did you know there're two species of Squirrel in the UK?

Both the Grey Squirrel and Red Squirrel call the UK home, but only our reds are native. Red Squirrels have lived here for around 10,000 years while Grey Squirrels were brought over to the UK from North America in the 1800s by the Victorians.

Red Squirrels tend to be found around coniferous woodland, they like to feast on hazelnuts by cracking the shells in half. They make a rough nest called a ‘drey’ out of twigs, leaves and strips of bark high up in the tree canopy. They are known to make multiple dreys to confuse predators and incase one gets damaged.

The red squirrel has a chestnut-red coat and pale underside. It's distinguishable from the greys by its much smaller size, red fur and large ear tufts. People do sometimes mistake some reds for greys when they have only small bits of red and are predominantly grey. The main thing to remember is that only our reds have large ear tufts so that's the best way to identify them correctly.

Squirrels have no particular mating partners and mate between February and March and again between June and July. Gestation periods last between 38-39 days and tend to lead to around 3-4 kittens. Unfortunately only 1 in 6 red squirrel kittens will make it through their first year. Being born blind with no fur or teeth makes them extremely vulnerable to disease and particularly predators such as birds of prey.

Reds Vs Greys

Grey Squirrel populations have spread rapidly since their first introduction to the UK and numbers are estimated to be around 2.7 million. Unfortunately things look very different for our poor native reds! It is estimated that only around 140,000 red squirrels are left in the UK.

Not only do the greys compete with the reds for food and habitat, the greys also carry a virus known as Squirrelpox. The virus doesn't have any impact on themselves but has proven to be fatal to our population of reds and hence their numbers are under pressure. Other threats to their numbers include habitat loss through deforestation and natural predators. Without careful conservation our native reds could be completely extinct within the UK within the next decade!

So whats being done to help?

The Wildlife Trusts has led the way in Red Squirrel conservation by undertaking habitat management, helping to educate and raise awareness and controlling grey squirrels in areas where red squirrels are at risk of extinction.

Many other organisations across Britain are working together to develop long-term conservation strategies that deter greys and encourage reds. Particular attention is being made to red squirrel 'strongholds' in areas such as Anglesey, parts of northern England and Scotland. Projects are helping landowners improve habitat areas, planting more trees to help connect areas of existing healthy woodland and finally funding research efforts to secure the long term future of red squirrel populations in the UK.

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