Red squirrel numbers have been dwindling for many years in this country since the introduction of the grey squirrels that are more adaptable and carry more body fat so they can survive longer winters. That must be why I have a little round tummy, it’s in my genes! Anyway, the greys were introduced from North America in 1876 apparently and they carry a virus which has also contributed to the red squirrels’ decline. There are a few projects underway in the UK to support the growth of the red squirrel population and you can find out more about this on the Red Squirrel Survival Trust website. How cute is that? They’ve got a website! They’ve even got royalty supporting them. And I’m not talking about Alan Titchmarsh! Although some might say he is a gardening supremo and he certainly does his bit to support British wildlife.
The reds in these pictures live at the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey and were so adorable that I had to write about them. As I went through the double gates after John, they must have all been hiding because the enclosure was lacking in squirrels, apparently they don’t like the wet and the cold. I saw a few chaffinches in the branches of the leafy green oak trees and some little Muntjac deer rummaging around in the undergrowth. Suddenly my feline hearing picked up the scraping of tiny feet and one by one, red squirrels started to appear on the grass. Several of them climbed up to the fence to get a good look at me, their little pink noses twitching with curiosity as they fixed me with their beady black eyes. They seemed to use their tufty ears to express how they were feeling, just like I do, and they dedicated a large amount of their time burying the food that the keeper was giving them. I watched them scurry along to a well-chosen spot, look around, then pretend to bury their nuts before scurrying off to another patch of ground to bury their grub for real. This clever little strategy is a good way to put the competition off the scent and stop the others stealing their supplies. Let’s hope they remember where the nuts are buried!
Shad does the British Wildlife Centre