How to boost red squirrel numbers has been a conundrum for British environmentalists for centuries now. The decline in the native red squirrel was noted as early as the 1800s and the incumbent grey squirrel has since planted a firm foot in British soil to the detriment of the smaller, sweeter red. It’s rare that grey squirrels aggressively root out reds but they are bolder, brawnier and use up the resources, which as an American native is to be expected.
However, it’s human intervention that introduced the grey squirrel to Britain, so how to right a wrong done by our ancestors so many moons ago? This month, we’ll show you how to encourage red squirrels back into your garden.
Note: As a general rule of thumb, the closer to Scotland you are the more luck you will have with red squirrels in the garden. In the English midlands and the south, you’ll be fighting an impossible battle. And so to work…
Plant, plant, plant
Red squirrels have an excellent taste in trees. Where greys are happy in any old pine tree, reds are fans of brambles, crab apples, holly, yew and most species of conifer. Ash trees, birches and willows will also improve the garden to their benefit. On the other hand, greys are particularly fond of oak and beech.
Supplementary feeding boxes are a great idea and they can be bought or made to accomodate red squirrels and deny greys access due to their size difference. Fill it with hazelnuts (in the shell), wheat, linseed, pine nuts, peanuts and sunflower seeds, as well as fresh pieces of apples or carrots. Only fill this every 3-4 days to prevent overfeeding
Make a quality habitat
If you like your garden on the wild side then encourage this further by allowing long grasses to grow and introduce rotting logs and rocks so that squirrels can hide and feed on the subsequent bugs and critters.
Actively discourage grey squirrels
Grey squirrels in the garden could be fatal to any nearby red squirrels as they may contract diseases such as squirrelpox or leprosy. If you see a grey squirrel on one of your feeders makes sure to remove it for a time. Disinfect the feeder by washing it and remove old food to minimise the chance of it being infected with diseases.
If you’ve been successful in promoting red squirrels in your area, make sure to get in touch with a red squirrel conservationist group. The Red Squirrel Survival Trust is a safe bet as they will be interested in how often and how many squirrels you’re seeing in and around the garden and may offer useful tips for the future!
Unfortunately it is common for red squirrels to contract the diseases mentioned above. If you see a squirrel in your garden that has noticeable ulcers or swelling around the eyes, ears, nose, mouth or paws, then get in touch with a conservationist group. They may be able to help in a way that will protect other red squirrels from becoming infected.