Red Squirrels are the only native squirrel to the British Isle. They can be spotted in the Lake District, Allen Banks in Northumberland, Brownsea Island Dorset, Grasmere Cumbria, Formby in Liverpool and of course the Isle of Wight.
Red Squirrels usually live on their own, however when they give birth to their babies the mother will live with them until they are 12 – 14 weeks old.
Red Squirrels live in nests, called Dreys. These are made from dried leaves, twigs and grass. Normally found in the forks of tall trees. This is where a mother squirrel will give birth to her babies, also known as kittens. The kittens will be born deaf and blind, and it won’t be until they are 3-4 weeks old that their eyes and ears will open. Red Squirrels can live to the age of about 6 years old. However, many don’t see their first birthday. During a Red Squirrels first winter this be a challenging time and unfortunately not all will make it through this season due to the weather, food shortage and disease.
Red Squirrels usually eat seeds from trees, nevertheless it’s always great to supply treats for Red Squirrels in your garden, not only will this help them it will also give you the chance to spot a Red Squirrel. The best food to leave for your Squirrels are hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts and sunflower seeds. Apple will always go down a treat for the Red Squirrels also. Do not feed dried food or too many peanuts!
There are lots of places on the Island where you can go Red Squirrel spotting. The best times are either at dusk or dawn but be sure that you are as quiet and still as possible when going to watch squirrels as they will react to any form of movement. One of the best places on the Island to view Red Squirrels is Alverstone Nature Reserve. When we held our Red Squirrel photography competition we asked each contestant where they took their photos and the majority of them said they were captured at Alvestone Nature Reserve. However, there are lots of other locations on the Island to spot Red Squirrels such as Robin Hill, the Garlic Farm at Newchurch, Shanklin Chine, Borthwood Copse, Quarr and Fort Victoria in Yarmouth.
Common knowledge to Island residents is that Grey Squirrels are not allowed on the Island. Even though we do not have a fixed access to the mainland Grey Squirrels can manage to make their way over to the island. Grey Squirrels are larger than Red Squirrels and they will dominate the Red Squirrels for territory and food. Resulting in devastation for Red Squirrels. Also, Grey Squirrels are a carrier of the Squirrelpox virus which is deadly for our Red Squirrels. If you see a Grey Squirrel be sure to report the sighting to Wight Squirrel Project on 01983 611003.
Red Squirrels are declining in population, this is due to the spread of the Squirrelpox virus from the Grey Squirrels. Correspondingly, they are smaller than the Grey Squirrels, so they are less likely to survive when fighting for food or territory. Also, when put under pressure Red Squirrels will not breed as often, again resulting in a decline in population. Therefore, we need to ensure we look after our Red Squirrels and report any sightings of Grey Squirrels.
Wight Squirrel Project and The Isle of Wight Red Squirrel Trust are Island Based Charities with a group of hardworking and dedicated people who work on the protection and survival of the native Red Squirrel. Wight Squirrel Project does the research, monitoring and welfare side of red squirrel work and The Isle of Wight Red Squirrel Trust focuses on education and practical conservation. Both were founded and are run by Helen Butler MBE.
You can also make donation to Wight Squirrel Project or The Isle of Wight Red Squirrel Trust on their websites, this money will go towards - amongst other things - squirrel food, welfare, making educational films and providing information packs.
For anymore information on The Isle of Wight Red Squirrel Trust visit their website at- http://www.iowredsquirreltrust.co.uk/
Tel: 01983 521212