Seeing red? Where to find red squirrels in Britain
Red squirrels are cute little critters. And that’s an Official Pitchup.com Proclamation, and you can quote us on that. But the little scamperers are spottable less and less in recent years, having been decimated by invading grey squirrels which are bigger, stronger and seemingly less intimidated by scampering about around cities and looking in your bin. That’s nuts.
Apart from being very cute and the sun glittering off their fur in a way that doesn’t happen with pesty greys, red squirrels should be (gently) stalked with cameras to see them sooner than later: there are fewer than 140,000 left in Britain according to the Forestry Commission (compared to over two and a half million greys) and the Red Squirrel Survival Trust estimates that reds could be extinct in Britain within ten years. Which is nuts indeed.
There have been several initiatives set up in Britain to help the population prosper, such as red squirrel sanctuaries, sending squirrels to Cornwall and attempts to reduce the grey population. See the critters for yourself at these British red squirrel sites, with some red squirrel campsites listed below:
Scotland: Around 85% of the UK’s red squirrel population is in Scotland, particularly Dumfries and Galloway, home to the first red squirrel trail in south Scotland at Dalbeattie Forest (the forest is also home to the illustrious 7stanes mountain bike trails, but perhaps it’s not a good idea to combine mountain biking with trying to spot shy squirrels).
Squirrel spotters can also take a trip to the county’s Drumranlig Castle and its 90,000 acre estate where reds scurry about the woodland. More red squirrel spots in south Scotland and the Scottish borders can be found here.
Perthshire is known as Big Tree Country so it’s not a huge leap to think there might be red squirrels jumping around in its branches. The Dunkeld region is where to go for the unusual sight of reds and greys living together and giving peace a chance: try the trails by the big trees at The Hermitage or in Craigvinean Forest to see them.
There’s also a Red Squirrel Walk at Atholl Estates near Blair Atholl, where the squirrels are fairly used to seeing humans so might not dash away at your approach, and sightings are ‘virtually guaranteed’ in summer at Cluny House Gardens near Aberfeldy. More information on Perthshire red squirrels here.
The Lake District: Although Cumbria and the Lake District has had its red squirrel population decline alongside other areas in Britain, numbers have been growing again since the Westmorland Red Squirrel Society started a two-year preservation programme in 2011, with some red squirrels spotted in areas for the first time in twenty years. The mountainous Whinlatter Forest near Keswick was a flagship red squirrel reserve and has a squirrel trail with rope bridge and feeders, a visitor centre and a trail map with red squirrel info.
You might also be able to spot Lake District red squirrels at Greystoke Forest, around Bassenthwaite Lake and on the Keswick to Threlkeld Railway Footpath. If you do see one, let the Westmorland Red Squirrel Society know so they can add it to their sightings map.
Isle of Wight: For southern England, the Isle of Wight is the biggest red squirrel haven, as the Solent acts as a barrier to the invading greys. But they do sometimes still get over, which is making us think of a grey squirrel posse stowing away on a ferry. To see reds, the ancient woodlands at Robin Hill Country Park are a good place to start, where there’s a viewing hide, squirrel cameras, info on Red Squirrel Hot Spots and a free Red Squirrel Safari every Friday afternoon. Parkhurst Forest, north-west of Newport, has a log cabin red squirrel hide at the centre of its Squirrel Safari, a short trail where squirrels can be seen along the route.
Isle of Anglesey: Conservationists started to eradicate the grey squirrel from Anglesey in 1997, followed by the reintroduction of more reds. The island now has the biggest population of red squirrels in Wales, up to around 500 from 40 when the programme began, and residents are now even seeing them in their town gardens. There are two main colonies on Anglesey to spot reds in woodland: the forest at Pentraeth in Red Wharf Bay and Newborough Forest next to the Site of Special Scientific Interest Newborough Warren.
Red squirrel campsites
Tummel Valley Holiday Park, Perthshire: Squirrel yourself away on a Tay Forest Park site where you can see squirrels pottering about from your pitch. Tummel Valley has a Gold David Bellamy Conservation Award, kids’ clubs, pool, sauna, nature trails and a bar with river views. Serviced hardstanding pitches start from £17.50.
Castle Point Caravan Site, Dumfries and Galloway: Within reach of the squirrels at Dalbeattie Forest Park, Castle Point is on the coastline at Rockcliffe near three sandy beaches. Luxury holiday homes sleeping up to six and with sea vies, balcony, heating and HD TV start from £45, with electric pitches for tents, tourers and motorhomes from £18.
Ninham Country Holidays, Isle of Wight: A Shanklin park bordered by red squirrel woodland with bluebells and badgers, a fishing pond on site, heated outdoor pool and free wifi. There are two sandy beaches, Shanklin and Sandown, within two miles. Pitches at Ninham Country Holidays start from £14.50– £17.25 for tents, tourers and motorhomes, with ‘green’ pitches available for those arriving on foot or by bike, from £11.50.
St David’s Park, Isle of Anglesey: Pitch up on a headland overlooking the Red Wharf Estuary, from which you can scamper along to the red squirrel colony at Pentraeth. St David’s Park has its own private beach, a gastropub and a heated amenity block with disabled facilities, hairdryers and a family room with bath. Coastal tent pitches with electric start from £25 for up to six people.
Hawkshead Youth Hostel, Cumbria: A camping pod site in woodland setting on the edge of Grizedale Forest, where red squirrels have recently been spotted making a comeback, a bit like David Bowie. The pods are in the grounds of YHA Hawkshead, where podders have access to all the facilities including restaurant, drying room, TV room and shower. The heated camping pods have electric and start from £40 sleeping up to three and £50 for a family pod sleeping up to four.
Other red squirrel sanctuaries and habitats
Kielder Forest, Northumberland
Greenfield Forest, N Yorkshire
Paradise Park, Cornwall
Escot Estate, Devon