We’re so used to the sight of a cute grey squirrel in our garden or local park, we easily forget that they are not native to this country and that they have largely contributed to reducing the number of our red squirrels dramatically over the years. It seems unfair, but to see a good old red squirrel in Britain, you need to travel a bit.
If you know where to look and how to spot one, you can easily see a red in all its fluffy glory. Here are some of the best places to spot red squirrels in Britain.
Scotland is a red squirrel paradise – it’s the only country in the UK where the reds have widely resisted the American grey squirrel invasion. This is thanks in part to the pine martens, who hunt small rodents as part of their varied diet. Unlike red squirrels, the greys spend more time on the ground and are too big to seek refuge on the tip of branches – the only inaccessible place to the martens.
You’ll be able to see red squirrels in many places in Scotland, provided there are pine trees around. The Rothiemurchus Forest and Glen Affric are amazingly scenic places to go try your luck.
Formby features two excellent habitats – the sand dunes by the sea and the magic pine forest. Here, you’ll be able to see red squirrels play and feed all year round. I saw about four or five of these cute little creatures at the end of October last year.
Ennerdale (Lake District)
The pine plantation near Ennerdale Water offers a great habitat to red squirrels – the trees are well spaced, so they grow lots of handy branches. I’ve seen three red squirrels here in the space of 15 minutes. Get settled and enjoy the show!
Aira Force is also a good place where to see the reds in the Lake District.
Brownsea Island (Poole)
This is one of the very few places where to spot the reds in the South. Grey squirrels have taken over most of the country, but they didn’t reach this tiny island by Poole harbour. Here you can spot the reds along with the pastel-coloured brimstone butterflies on the warmer days.
Borthwood Copse (Isle of Wight)
There are about 3,500 red squirrels on the Isle of Wight, so you have a really good chance of seeing one on this picturesque island. Borthwood Copse is the best spot, but you can go squirrel-spotting in the woods near Newtown, on the Mottistone Estate, and in the Forestry Commission’s Parkhurst Forest too.
Top tips to actually see a red squirrel
The best time to go squirrel watching is the morning, late afternoon, and evening, when these little creatures are most active. Needless to say, walking through woods, you won’t just bump into a red squirrel as you would do with a grey in Hyde Park. You need some patience.
When you’ve found a good spot, stand or sit still for a while and look around you. Keep quiet. Listen. Can you see any pieces of pine cones dropping from the trees? Are any branches moving? Can you see any eaten pine cones on the forest floor? Those will be the signs you’re in the right place.
Get settled with your binoculars at hand and wait. Keep looking at those branches. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a shadow or a movement. Follow it, and you’ll realise it’s a cute hyperactive red squirrel running on the branches and jumping from tree to tree to pick the best pine cones and munch through them. Enjoy their acrobatics and savour the moment.
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