Until fairly recently the only Red squirrel I’d ever seen was Tufty the road safety squirrel who helped teach me to the cross the road. I had a fleeting glimpse of one in the Lake District years ago and then last year in Scotland we saw a couple. So last week I decided to drive over to Formby on the West coast where there is a colony of them in a pine forest close to the beach.
The Red squirrel was decimated by the introduction of the Grey squirrel which pushed it out of its strongholds by over-competing with it for food and also by the squirrel pox which came with the Greys. The greys were resistant to the disease but it almost wiped out the Reds.
The Greys quickly took over the Red’s environment but they hung on in small colonies in remote parts of Scotland and Northern England. The population at Formby is one of 17 Red Squirrel strongholds in the North of England. The plantation conifer woodlands on National Trust land is a good habitat for the Reds as they like to feed on the seeds found in the pine cones. As the pine cones tend to grow near the end of the branches Grey Squirrels struggle to get to them, because of their heavier weight, making the area less attractive for this species to live in. The volunteers who monitor and feed the Reds are also on the lookout for any Greys which are trapped and moved away.
Red squirrels usually have russet red fur, although coat colour can vary with some reds appearing very grey or almost black (and some grey squirrels can have red fur down their backs and on their feet). They are small with ear tuffs which are larger in winter,- while grey squirrels are stockier and rounder. There is little difference between males and females, which makes it difficult to distinguish between the sexes.
The squirrels are very inquisitive and know they will get a free meal off a lot of the visitors so aren’t afraid of coming up close and some will take food from your hand. They can easily be heard as they chirrup to each other in the trees and make quite a racket as they race from branch to branch. They cache food throughout the trees and the undergrowth burying what they don’t eat for leaner times. They are also able to tell good nuts from bad by weighing them up in their paws.
Cute fascinating and a great day out, lets hope they continue to bounce back and become a more regular sight throughout the country.