It's National Squirrel Appreciation Day. Formby in Sefton is one of the few places in the UK where red squirrels still thrive. The red squirrel might be rare, but we can do more to help encourage their population.
If you’ve ever seen a red squirrel in the wild then you’re extremely lucky. Less than 5 per cent of Brits have spotted the creature in our outdoor spaces. In fact, there are less than 40,000 of them in England - red squirrels, that is - with Scotland holding fast to 75 per cent of the remaining population.
Red Squirrels were once a common sight across the UK but, since the introduction of the North American Grey Squirrel in the 19th Century, their numbers have declined.
Formby is within the North Merseyside and West Lancashire Red Squirrel Stronghold, one of a few refuges left for red squirrels across the UK. The National Trust Formby said: “We are very proud of our red squirrel population at Formby, and want to do what’s best for them. Anytime you visit the woodland areas here you are likely to see a red squirrel.”
“In the past we sold squirrel food so our visitors could help us feed the reds. This has led to the squirrels expecting to be fed in this way, but it’s something we’ve been actively discouraging in recent years. And has led to us changing the way we feed them too.”
“At Formby there is enough natural food in the woodlands for the squirrels to forage and thrive. They eat a variety of food, berries, lichen, and fungi, as well as pine cones.
Help us, help them by not feeding but enjoy watching them, chasing around, and up and down the trees, and help us maintain a healthy population of red squirrels at National Trust Formby.”
He even leaves his jackets outside with nuts left in the pockets for the squirrels to feast on.
The Prince of Wales has spoken about his affection for 'inquisitive and delightful' red squirrels as he praised the volunteers helping to protect the animals.
Charles said he admires the creatures and he lets them roam around his Birkhall home on the Queen's Balmoral estate.
The prince marked today's Squirrel Appreciation Day by writing a letter to thank the volunteers for their hard work.
The last remaining locations in England that red squirrels can be seen are Formby, the Isle of Wight and Brownsea Island in the south, the Lake District and Northumberland in the north.
Here’s what you can do to help the plight of the red squirrel.
Should you be lucky enough to have a red squirrel visit your garden, you can leave some choice food items to supplement their diet.
The most suitable foods for red squirrels are:
Beech (cob) nuts
Bone meal to help provide extra calcium
UK garden wildlife products and supply company Ark Wildlife are the only supplier of red squirrel food in the UK and provide it to charities to support them in protecting the species.
Director of Ark Wildlife and wildlife expert Sean McMenemy, says: “We’ve seen ongoing demand for red squirrel food from charities across the UK, and many of our customers are keen to help red squirrels wherever possible. It’s encouraging to see this level of concern from the public, charities and action groups.”
“When last surveyed, only 5 per cent of people in Britain had ever seen a red squirrel in their garden. This is a native mammal that was once prevalent right across the country, and the figure is likely to be even lower today.”
"If you're lucky enough to live in one of the areas where red squirrels are still around, supporting them with red squirrel food can go a long way to supplementing their diet – but remember you’re not replacing it. Red squirrels should always be encouraged to forage for food.”
Placing feeding stations relatively high up, such as a few feet into a tree or on a high wall, ensures that squirrels are less at risk from cats. Also make sure that they don’t have to cross open ground to get to them.
Rachael Cripps, who is a red squirrel project officer advises: “When out in the woods, take the time to sit and listen. When you are quiet you will often hear a squirrel before you see it – running up a tree trunk, munching on pine cone, the thud of eaten pine cone cores falling from the canopy or chattering loudly at your presence.”
“Report sightings of reds and greys to your local Red Squirrel Group or become a volunteer. There are also plenty of opportunities from surveying to fundraising that will help.”
All photos on this post are from Formby National Trust
Find out more about how you can help the Formby Red Squirrels here: