Looking After Our Red Squirrels

Everyone enjoys seeing red squirrels out and about in the lovely Lake District. But our little red friends have been having a tough time and while they have always been supported in the Keswick area – by rangers, by the National Trust and by Allerdale Red Squirrel Group – a few people felt the time had come to make a concerted, local effort to protect our population of reds.

Keswick Red Squirrel Group was formed in March 2020 because, despite long-term dedicated efforts to manage the red and grey squirrel populations, an increasing imbalance in local areas is being seen; more greys and less reds suggesting that the reds were struggling to survive. The reds are an endangered species and threatened not only by the larger and more aggressive greys taking over food and habitat, but more worryingly so, by the lethal squirrel pox virus carried by the greys. They are immune but the pox virus is passed on to the red squirrels, for whom it is deadly. The last two years have been very bad with outbreaks of pox on both sides of Derwentwater, significantly reducing numbers of reds.

The aim of the group is to increase public awareness of the challenges facing the red squirrel population and to interact with local people and visitors so that they can let us know where grey squirrels are active so that our rangers can focus their activities. Sightings can be reported through the Facebook group “Keswick Red Squirrel Group” or by email to: [email protected]

The group is also working to raise funds for food and equipment, it is not a charity, but a small, simple community group working almost entirely voluntarily, but all monies raised go directly towards helping the red squirrels.

Rangers set up feeders and sometimes cameras in areas where greys may be present. It is particularly concerning where greys are sighted and reds are known to be present meaning the reds are threatened. Recently the group lost a source of food supplies for the feeders, so a fundraising campaign has been set up through gofundme, which can be accessed via their Facebook page. Rangers aim to manage the greys in a particular area and when they see only reds using the feeder, they know they have been successful!

In addition to the core team, there are 150 supporters through the Facebook group and they work closely with their umbrella group “Allerdale Red Squirrel Group” and other neighbouring groups such as Binsey, which covers a wide area to the north of Keswick.

It is hoped that local people and businesses will get behind the newly formed group, as well as people visiting the area, so that we can hopefully look back in future years and see that we have made a difference in helping these little red squirrels bounce back!

Squirrel on a branch in a tree
Credit: David Woodthorpe
Squirrel on a tree stump
Credit: David Woodthorpe