Red Alert - Tufty's Back!

This young Red Squirrel has its characteristic bushy tail but its distinctive ear-tufts have yet to grow.

For many months now we have been promising the arrival of some new Red Squirrels here at SOS. Well, it has been a very, very long wait... but at long last I am happy to report that they have finally arrived.

A pair of young males arrived a week ago and have now settled happily into their new surroundings. They are here as the foundation of our attempt to re-build our now sadly-depleted colony, which has been gradually shrinking over recent years due to the natural deaths of our original stocks, of whom only one ageing female remains.

The enclosure of the new arrivals - located within our “Woodland Walk” here at SOS - is purpose-built for these acrobatic individuals and I must say it has been a real treat to watch them scampering around at lightening speed as they investigate and explore their new home.

The Red Squirrel enclosure at S.O.S. - purpose-built for leafy acrobatics!

The picture at the top of the page shows one of the youngsters, which you can identify as immature because he is missing the distinctive ‘ear-tufts’ you normally associate with Red Squirrels (tufts which, incidentally, are completely absent from their less-popular grey cousins). The ear-tufts will appear in time, and when they do we will of course post you a picture of them - assuming, of course, that I am able to take a clear picture them.

Photographing these lively scamps has proved a task much easier said than done, as I have discovered over the last week!  Thankfully Andrew Farrow (a fellow colleague here at SOS) helped me out and managed to secure the shots - either he has a natural flair for wildlife photography or simply just has more patience than I do - I’m opting for the latter!

Andrew Farrow accomplished the difficult task of photographing one of our lively new housemates!

Why do we have Red Squirrels here at SOS?  Well, historically & conservationally they are a very interesting species and they also act as a natural counterpoint to the raptor population here at Stonham.

Red Squirrels (by nature) are very timid, tree-dwelling mammals that live at low densities within the UK and so are seldom seen. The most recent estimates of red squirrel population were compiled by Harris in 1995, when they estimated approximately 30,000 in England, 10,000 in Wales and 121,000 in Scotland, representing 70-75% of the GB population.

However, more recent population estimates are significantly lower, especially for Wales. The population in England is very fragmented, with isolated populations on the islands within Poole Harbour, on the Isle of Wight, and in near to us in East Anglia in Thetford Forest (and here sitings are so rare it is thought the population may have disappeared now). So we feel very privileged to have these wonderful creatures here at SOS, potentially the only Red Squirrels in the region.

Historically, Red Squirrel in the UK have had a chequered career. it is thought they made their way to the British Isles from Europe at the end of the last ice age, approximately 10,000 years ago. Records indicate a large population established by the 16th Century, though they were subject to population fluxes, principally because of loss of woodland. At one point Red Squirrels were reported as extinct in some parts of Scotland following deforestation, but the widespread planting of conifers and introductions of red squirrels from England and possibly Scandinavia early in the 19th century resulted in increasing populations by the 1900's.

However, in 1903 the Highland Squirrel Club was established to control Red Squirrels in Scotland because they were causing severe damage to trees by bark-stripping: over 82,000 animals were culled in the 20 years following. Generally, populations throughout the British Isles declined also.

But man is not the only enemy of the Red Squirrel. The Grey Squirrel was introduced in the UK at about 30 different sites between 1876 and the late 1930's, and as is generally known, contributed greatly to the continued decline of Red Squirrel populations to the extent they have replaced them throughout much of their former range. (It is thought that once Grey Squirrels arrive in a woodland populated by Red Squirrels, the two species can co-exist for about 20 years before Reds disappear from the site.)

Sadly, today throughout the whole of the UK, the Red Squirrel is still under threat from long term habitat loss, potential Grey squirrel incursion and disease transmission: it is predicted that their numbers will continue to decline, at least in mainland UK, without specific habitat management.
So as we, mankind, have had a direct impact on the squirrels decline, it seems only right, that we should try to restore the natural balance wherever possible.  From our previous colony we were able to donate progeny to the valuable release programmes that have been taking place in Wales, and our plan is to develop the new stocks so that we can make further contributions to controlled release programmes back to the wild.

Meanwhile, why not pay our new Red Squirrels a visit? We look forward to seeing you!