Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Still Clinging On: Durham's Red Squirrels




The North of England Lead Mining Museum at Killhope in Upper Weardale (http://www.killhope.org.uk/Pages/KillhopeHomePage.aspx) is a wonderful place to learn more about what must have been one of the toughest ways to earn a living yet devised, hacking lead ore out of the Pennines. The fully restored mine and lead processing equipment, including a giant overshot water wheel, and the exquisite collection of mineral crystals extracted from local mines, are just a few of the delights that the museum has to offer. In the spruce plantation behind the mine you can still watch red squirrels at close quarters, at two feeding stations that have been set up there. They are probably extinct elsewhere in County Durham but a small population still thrives here. During our visit yesterday we watched four red squirrels , including this almost white-tailed example which is typical of our native sub-species – re-introduced populations of European origin tend not to display this distinctive feature. A couple of the squirrels still carried their long ear tufts, which red squirrels are supposed to lose in summer; presumably they hadn’t read the ID guides. If you visit Killhope, which opens at 10am., head straight for the squirrel hides, before the visitors to the mining museum start exploring the woodland trail, and you’ll stand the best chance of seeing these fast-disappearing animals.

6 comments:

  1. Good to know they're still hanging on in places Phil. It's been many years since I've seen the 'reds.'
    That first shot is a beauty.

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  2. Great shots of the red squirrels. I never knew about the white on the tail. I have never seen a red in the flesh. All we ever see here is the grey.

    I think it is great that some of our industrial heritage is being preserved and restored. It brings recent history to life. It was a sad loss when Fred Dibnah passed away as he was able to bring such places to life on the small screen in a down to earth manner.

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  3. Hi Keith,when I first came to live in Durham, 35 years ago, there were red squirrels everywhere but now I think this may be the last surviving population in the county....although there are still quite a number in Cumbria and Northumberland.

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  4. Couln't agree with you more about industrial heritage Jogn. I used to enjoy Fred Dibnah's programmes .......a real real enthusiast, with practical skills to match. The engineers who built machinery like the waterwheel at Killhope were the heroes of their age.

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  5. Illuminating post as usual - Killhope sounds an appropriate name for a mine.
    I'll be visiting the north-east soon, and that'll be on the list.

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  6. Hi Kingsdowner, If you visit, look out for the heavy metal-tolerant mountain pansies that grow all around the place. If you walk upstream along Killhope burn from the visitor centre you can pick up some nice samples of galena in the rocks in the stream (and fossil Lepidodendron tree roots).........and the little cafe in the visitor centre does excellent bacon butties (or try the breakfast panini (sausage,egg,bacon and tomato in a panini)..it'll set you up for the day!

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