Monday, April 14, 2014

Red squirrel in the Eden valley

Last week, when I was watching this delightful red squirrel feeding in a sycamore on the banks of the river Eden near Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria, I could see exactly why people find this species so much more attractive than their grey cousins, and also why they were so ruthlessly persecuted back in the 19th. and early 20th. century. 

Aside from their coat colour, magnificent tails and tufted ears, it's the sheer speed and agility of the native species that's particularly striking. In comparison, grey squirrels often look corpulent . Maybe that's more than a little due to the red's spartan diet of seeds, buds and bark, unlike grey's menu which includes more or less anything and everything, especially in urban areas where there's plenty to scavenge from waste bins. 

But in the past it was the red's liking for buds and bark that began its downfall. While I watched this one stripped bark off several branches and it was this kind of behaviour that led to intensive culling in the first half of the 20th. century, at the instigation of estate owners. The Highland Squirrel Club, formed in 1903, succeeded in exterminating 85,000 red squirrels over the next 30 years and that kind of persecution, together with habitat destruction, must have played a role in making the red squirrel population more vulnerable to the spread of their grey counterparts.


  1. I have only two photographs so far this year and neither compare. The terrors are trained but a squirrel is just temptation. Little devils. They wander about bumping into things whilst looking up.
    The Victorians and their forbears have much to answer for. They also were a phase in the development of the country. We now need competent management through a coalition of the Greens and proper Labour.

  2. It was quite a distance away so this is a big crop. Couldn't get any closer - there was a fast-flowing river in the way!