Where can I see red squirrels? On Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour.
The UK population of red squirrels has dropped from a one time high of 3.5 million to under 140,000. This should be compared to a current estimate of 2.5 million of grey squirrels. The good news is that Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour is one of the safest strongholds in the south of England for these rare creatures.
An endangered species
Red squirrels are now an endangered species due to the loss of their woodland habitat and the introduction of the American grey squirrel. Sadly, the greys carry the squirrelpox virus which can be deadly if transmitted to the reds.
Both species of squirrel have a similar role in the ecosystem. They are both small woodland mammals that spread the seeds of trees. However, red squirrels are a particularly important asset in the regeneration of pine woodlands. Reds are specially adapted to feed on the seeds in their pine cones.
The red squirrel has a reddish-brown coat and pale underside. It has a characteristically bushy tail. It is easily distinguished from the grey squirrel by its smaller size, red fur and distinctive, large ear tufts.
Red squirrels are most often found in coniferous woods, feasting on hazelnuts by cracking the shell in half. You may also find pine cones that have been nibbled, leaving what looks like an apple core behind.
Squirrels make a rough nest, called a ‘drey’, of twigs, leaves and strips of bark in the fork of a branch, high in the tree canopy.
No. Red squirrels do not hibernate, but they do keep stores of food to see them through difficult times when fresh food is not available. In their favoured habitats of mixed broadleaf and coniferous woodland, they have a source of food all year-round as pine seeds are present over the winter months.