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Walking Activities - Red Squirrel Safari

Red Squirrel c/o Glen Tanar estate and McCallan

Autumn is a brilliant time of year for Red Squirrel spotting when these creatures are busy getting ready for winter. Follow our top tips for a Red Squirrel safari and you might find yourself in the company of one of Britain's most attractive small mammals.


Red Squirrel safari.
Image - Diane and Michael Allan.

Squirrel c/o Brownsea IslandRed Squirrels are now largely confined to northern England, Scotland and parts of Wales.

They are now extinct in southern England except for small numbers on the Isle of Wight and two small islands in Poole Harbour.

The Grey Squirrel, which was introduced to the UK from North America in the 19th Century, out-competes the native Red and has now replaced it over much of England and Wales.

This is because the Grey is much better suited to the environment in the British Isles and our broad-leaved woodlands.

The Grey Squirrel is also larger than the red and is better able to survive harsh weather and periods when food is in short supply.

Coniferous woodlands

Typical Squirrel woodland c/o Carolyn GarlickThe Reds arrived after the last Ice Age but haven't had the time to adapt to broad-leaved woodland - they're more suited to conifers.

As a result the Reds have been overwhelmed by the Greys in terms of competition for space and food.

For example the Grey Squirrels' digestive system can cope with the tannins found in acorns but the Reds haven't yet evolved the same system.

The Greys also carry a virus known as "squirrel pox" that is deadly to Red Squirrels.

Today there are only an estimated 150,000 Red Squirrels left in the UK compared with over two million Greys.

Good places for Red Squirrels

Wallington, Glen Tanar (Cairngorms) and Galloway Forest Park

Also worth visiting: RSPB Loch Garten (Boat of Garten, Scotland), Formby (Wirral), Brownsea Island (Dorset). Also Thetford Chase (East Anglia), Cannock Chase (Staffordshire), and Hope Forest (Derbyshire).

Top tips - Squirrel safari

* The typical Red Squirrel habitat is coniferous woodland.

* The Reds are smaller and lighter than the Grey Squirrel so they can reach the cones on the tips of the branches more easily. Look for them on the branches of conifers in coniferous woodlands in Scotland, Northern England and parts of Wales.

* Red Squirrels like to eat seeds, berries, nuts and fruit. Watch for them feeding on the forest floor as well as scrambling up tree trunks. Red Squirrels spend approximately three-quarters of their active day above the ground in trees and shrubs.

* Timing your visit is crucial. During the autumn and winter the Red Squirrels are up early and often disappear at 11am for a siesta.

* Some reserves have feeding areas which are attractive to Red Squirrels e.g. Loch Garten, Formby. This means that you're almost guaranteed a Squirrel watching experience.

* Never disturb a Red Squirrel.These animals must not be intentionally trapped or kept, or have their dreys disturbed except under licence, by law.

Photo credits

Main Red Squirrel image courtesy and copyright of Glen Tanar estate, Diane and Michael Allan.

Small Red Squirrel courtesy of Brownsea Island.



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