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10 July 2014
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Formby and Ainsdale

Squirrel sanctuary

Formby dunes and grass

Formby is one of the last refuges of a beautiful animal that's all but disappeared from the rest of England - the Red Squirrel.

Formby Pinewoods is one of 12 squirrel refuges in Britain.

Formby - a sandy beach backed with pine woods


It's been nicknamed the golf coast because of the nearby courses at Royal Birkdale and St Annes, but Formby is famous for more than just teeing off.

A century ago Red Squirrels were still a common sight across England, but since then most of their habitats have been destroyed.

Enjoy a wild web walk on Formby Beach and Pinewoods

Pinewoods

PinesFormby Pinewoods is one of 12 squirrel refuges in Britain - the National Trust work day and night to protect the 200 Red Squirrels that live here.

The vast majority of Red Squirrels live in Scotland with 85% of the remaining population living in the North Of England.

Reds have come under attack in recent years by its larger cousin, the grey, which carries a virus known as "squirrel pox" that is deadly to red squirrels and is also more competitive over territory.

Local residents have long been encouraged to report sightings of the predatory greys to the National Trust and, as a result, the reserve is now a sanctuary for one of the largest remaining populations of Red Squirrels in the UK.

One of the most important factors in its success is the fact that Formby Pinewoods consists mainly of conifers, which wards off the predatory greys who seem to prefer deciduous forests.

The pinewoods also contain a fair number of Corsican and Scots pine trees, the cones of which are a major food source.

Fortunately when the pine cones run out, visitors are more than happy to lend a hand feeding them, and some of the squirrels have become so used to humans that they can even be hand-fed.

Red Squirrel sanctuary

SquirrelThe Red Squirrel, or sciurus vulgaris, is native to Britain, and is really only red during winter - their coats turn a darker browney-black colour in spring.

Over the past century their numbers have declined greatly due to competition from greys, which were introduced here from North America in 1876.

Now there are only an estimated 150,000 Red Squirrels left in the UK compared with over two million greys - which means the reds could be outnumbered six to one!

It's estimated that 85 per cent of the remaining population live in the North of England, and at Formby Squirrel Reserve, the population typically numbers three or four adult squirrels per hectare.

Perfect dunes

DunesThe sand dunes at Formby attract many visitors as they're widely considered a near-perfect example of dune formation.

But these dunes are fast disappearing, losing an average of 10 feet of sand a year northward along the coast, which is why Ainsdale, five miles up from Formby, is another great sandy habitat.

Despite the tough conditions, there are some creatures which thrive here among the sand and marram grass, like the sand lizard and the great crested newt.

But there's one species which lives here in vast numbers - the Common Toad.

This squat, warty creature has short toes, webbed hind feet and a rounded snout, and can be various colours depending on sex, age and time of year.

Fortunately it's recognisable by its orange eyes with horizontal black pupils, behind which are a set of gland which secret a toxic substance to deter predators.

It lays its eggs in rock pools on the beach, when it's a race against time for the tadpoles to develop and crawl out before the pool evaporates in summer.

Natterjacks

Natterjack habitatAnother species often found here is the rare Natterjack Toad, and Ainsdale is one of the best places in the UK to see them.

It's a nocturnal creature, with a loud croak that can carry for miles, and they're noisiest in winter, when the males "sing" to attract a mate.

In fact, most people hear the Natterjack Toad, the loudest amphibian in Europe, before they see it.

If you do manage to glimpse one close-up, the Natterjack Toad can be recognised by its mottled, warty back, which has a yellow stripe running down from the snout.

Like the Common Toad, Natterjacks also have the ability to alter the colour of their skin, either lighter or darker, to camouflage themselves into their surroundings.

Enjoy a wild web walk on Formby Beach and Pinewoods

Photo credits

All photographs by Carolyn Garlick.

 

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