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The Red Squirrel – the fightback begins!

The Red Squirrel – the fightback begins!
By Rob 4 years ago

Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), in woodland, south west England, United Kingdom, Europe

A bit of background

The red squirrel, Sciurus vulgaris, is an arboreal omnivorous rodent, but just red squirrel sounds so much nicer. All is not well in red squirrel land primarily due to the 19th century invasion of its North American cousin, the grey squirrel. It’s estimated that the greys now lead the reds in the UK by 2.5million to 0.15million.


Know your squirrel facts

Here are some lesser known red squirrel qualities.

  • Red squirrels do not hibernate
  • Examining teeth marks on pine cones has shown they can be both left and right handed
  • They use their tufty ears to express feeling, a bit like a dog
  • They can survive a fall of 12m and jump 2m
  • Squirrels have double jointed ankles to enable them to go down a tree head first
  • In the original version of Cinderella, the glass slippers were actually red squirrel pelts


Be sure to be able to tell the enemy apart


Variations in fur colour of both species can sometimes make separating them a little difficult. Once you know them both well their overall behaviour and shape gives them away. Some squirrel comparison facts:

Red                                                                                 Grey

Only native UK squirrel                                              North American introduction


White stomach and chest, Fur colour                      Grey with white underside, tail has white fringe.

varies from chestnut to almost black                       No ear tufts

Long ear tufts which are often lost

in summer.


Mainly tree seeds but also buds, flowers                 Similar to the red, but can also digest acorns and

and shoots of deciduous and coniferous                 and other seeds with high tannin content, which

trees and even caterpillars and fungi.                      Reds cannot digest.


Conifer and broad leaved forests                               Anywhere there’s a tree

Disease risk:

Vulnerable to squirrel pox virus                                Carries squirrel pox virus, but not affected.



Help is at Hand

The balance needs urgent redressing and there is help at hand, and some of that help comes from very high authority. HRH The Prince of Wales is patron of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust. He describes the red squirrel as ‘one of the most utterly charming and irresistible of British native mammals’…….. and that the red squirrel is facing a battle for survival seems an almost incomprehensible situation to have arisen. The Prince considers the work of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust essential in co-ordinating all the remarkable charities and groups which are battling the front line to save the red squirrel.


The Battle Plan

There is plenty of opportunity to improve the lot of the red squirrel. Some action might seem drastic, some fanciful, and some very simple, but combined it can make a difference. The aim is to get the red squirrels to gradually spread from their existing strongholds. The good news is that because they have a foothold in several locations in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, plus a strong base in Scotland, this means that the battle can be fought on several fronts.


Squirrel Strategies

  • Continue the development of a vaccine against squirrel pox. It could be many years before this is available in the affordable and easily dispensable form necessary to assist red squirrel conservation.
  • Control grey squirrels in areas adjacent to red squirrel populations. Use methods approved by The European Scientific Panel on Animal Health and Welfare. This might seem extreme, but it is sadly necessary.
  • Continue research into grey squirrel contraception - strange, but true.
  • Manage habitat so it is more suited to red than grey squirrels.
  • Red squirrels like to feed on the ground and sadly have little road sense. Beware Squirrel road signs have been erected in Scotland, but disappointingly a study showed that average speeds were only 0.7mph less in these areas, but the upside was that squirrel fatalities were less which suggests drivers were looking out for our fury friends.
  • Build a squirrel rope bridge to help them cross roads and disperse into new territories. Make sure you ask the landowners’ and highway authority’s permission first. These bridges have been proved to work. Remember to ‘think like a squirrel’ when planning bridges. Baiting the bridges with tasty treats will help get the squirrels used to it.
  • Eat grey squirrel. They are surprisingly tasty and if you don’t fancy catching your own they are now more commonly available from traditional butchers. In my home county of Pembrokeshire there is an active ‘Really Wild dining club’ that meet monthly and often consume squirrel. My favourite squirrel recipe is by Vivek Singh and is Tandoori grey squirrel with Rajasthani spices. Nice with a glass of cold beer.

For more information contact the Red Squirrel Survival Trust. http://rsst.org.uk/


With all worthy battles there comes a poem and this battle is no exception.

The Red Squirrel by David Mitchell

I do not think I ever saw

A squirrel red before:

I do not think that I shall see

Another evermore.

I only saw that fair rare sight

Briefly, but I'll not let

My memory that creature fair

At any time forget.

It was a creature surely never

Equalled in its fairness;

The sight was made more precious, still,

Because of its great rareness.

Please, please do your bit to help the red squirrel prosper in our historic countryside.

David Pitman

December 2015.

Posted in: squirrelsUncategorized