Red Squirrels

We have been so proud to work on some fantastic conservation projects over the years, and this month our red squirrel conservation project has naturally come to a close. The last of our squirrels have been rehomed with our partners across the UK. The red squirrels have been part of Pensthorpe for over 20 years, originally being donated to the park by the late David Stapleford who founded the East Anglian Red Squirrel group here in Norfolk. The programme has been extremely successful, with hundreds of red squirrels successfully bred over the years. Many of these are released into the wild as part of reintroduction efforts and others helping to form a wider National Breeding Programme.

Red squirrels are Britain’s only native species of squirrel and were once a common sight in conifer forests. Recent figures estimate a red squirrel population of around 120,000 in Britain. Extensive timber felling in Britain from the 14th and 15th centuries onward led to a declining red squirrel population. The first grey squirrels were released in Cheshire in 1876, with further releases over the following 50 years they soon became widespread.

The grey squirrel (estimated population 2.5 million) carries the parapox virus which it is immune to; however this virus is always fatal to the red squirrel.

Actively saving species

The red squirrel is part of a national Biodiversity Action Plan and there are breeding programmes underway coupled with reintroduction projects. The red squirrels in Norfolk, that we have at Pensthorpe are part of one such project; and young over several years have been released on Anglesey in North Wales as part of a managed release programme and more recently in Ogwen Valley on the mainland in North Wales. Pensthorpe Conservation Trust (PCT) has worked alongside other members of the East Anglian Red Squirrel Group to support future captive breeding and release projects.

Find out about how red squirrels are being looked after by dedicated charities here.

Find out about our other conservation projects.