red squirrels at pensthorpe

Red Squirrel Awareness Week

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22 Sep 2020

Red Squirrel Awareness Week

21st – 27th September 2020

The red squirrel is the UK’s only native squirrel species and was once a common sight in our woodlands, however has been in decline for decades with the current population in England sadly thought to be as low as 15,000. Here at Pensthorpe Natural Park we work with the East Anglian Red Squirrel Group (EARSG) and have been breeding red squirrels successfully since 1998. Many of Pensthorpe’s kittens have been released on the Isle of Anglesey, Wales, as part of a managed release programme bringing the population on the Island from 40 individuals to over 700 now living there.

Pensthorpe is also part of a recent success story, having donated a pair of reds, named Domino and Fizz, to Clocaenog Red Squirrel Trust in Denbighshire. Clocaenog Forest has seen its red squirrel population decline from 400 to less than 50 in the past 20 years. It has been reported that the pair have bred successfully, which is a major triumph for the EARSG.

Chrissie Kelley, Head of Species Management here at Pensthorpe Natural Park, said: “Red squirrels are full of personality and they definitely captivate our visitors, who love seeing them running around, eating nuts and fresh vegetables and trying to spot a bushy red tail! It is really important that visitors young and old interact with and are educated about these charming creatures and the risks threatening them so that we can protect them for future generations. We are really pleased about the success story of the breeding pair at Clocaenog. We are all hopeful that this project will replicate the success of the Anglesey one.”

Pensthorpe Conservation Trust (PCT) is a charity dedicated to creating a centre of excellence in ecological restoration, promoting sustainable farming and researching, breeding and protecting threatened species. Other members of the East Anglian Red Squirrel Group (EARSG) include Kelling Heath Holiday Park, Pettitts Animal Adventure Park, Mayfields CRT, Weybourne Forest Lodges, Easton College and Whitwell Hall.

Our two breeding pairs of red squirrels here at Pensthorpe occupy three purpose-made enclosures, built around trees and linked by overhead runs. To keep the squirrels healthy throughout the year a rather select diet is required including; 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.