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) is working alongside other members of the East Anglian Red Squirrel Group to support future captive breeding and release projects.
We need your help
The red squirrels in Norfolk at Pensthorpe are cared for by the PCT team in three purpose built enclosures built around existing trees and linked by overhead runs. To keep the squirrels healthy throughout the year a rather select diet is required, chestnuts, hazelnuts, a choice of fresh vegetables as well as antler to gnaw on especially for the breeding season. The attention to detail with animal husbandry for the red squirrel follows years of observational research and helps us give the best possible care and enrichment opportunities.
Find out about our other conservation projects.