Red squirrels make a surprise comeback at Cumbrian caravan park

The red squirrel (right) was common in the UK before the larger grey squirrel took over its natural habitat during the 20th century
The red squirrel (right) was common in the UK before the larger grey squirrel took over its natural habitat during the 20th century

Friday, 05, May 2017 05:17

by Tom Leaning

Multiple sightings of red squirrels at Cumbria's Skelwith Fold caravan park this spring are causing excitement among holidaymakers - and especially youngsters.

The wildlife-friendly Ambleside park says the red revival is evidence of the success of its 12-year conservation programme to encourage the animals' return.

Now guests at Skelwith Fold are reporting regular appearances of the red squirrel colonies which are beginning to thrive in the 130 acre grounds of the park.

For children especially, says director Henry Wild, it's a magical chance to see - possibly for the first time ever - Britain's best-loved and most iconic woodland creature.

But tempting the elusive reds back has required a concerted effort by the park and its staff over a period of more than a decade.

It required a reduction in the number of grey squirrels through humane culling, and a woodland management scheme to ensure that the natural environment remained red-friendly.

A near setback to the park's plans came near the start when a virus, deadly to red squirrels, was known to be spreading through parts of the UK.

Skelwith Fold established that the parapox virus, as it is called, was suspected of being passed via the feeders often used to bolster the diet of red squirrels.

The park quickly moved on to ground feeding and alternative methods of delivering the food to the animals - and as a result, the grounds have remained completely virus-free.

According to Henry Wild, Skelwith Fold is also thankfully free of another major threat to red squirrels - the domestic cat, and its total disregard for whether its dinner is endangered or not.

Six years ago, after the first reds were spotted, The Prince of Wales wrote to Skelwith Fold congratulating the park "most strongly" on its "efforts to preserve this wonderful creature".

Prince Charles also gave details of the park's achievements to the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, of which he is the patron, and it has now published Skelwith's success strategy nationwide.

"It's involved a lot of hard work on the part of our own conservation team at Skelwith Fold, but this year's many sightings have made everything worthwhile," said Henry.

"The possible return of the reds is something we've all dreamt of for a long time, and now it's become a reality thanks to the determination of everybody here.

"Our guests have also felt the buzz, and many have reported capturing their sighting on camera - and we're now compiling, where possible, a library of their films and photos.

"It's fantastic to know that our reds are helping to create some amazing lifetime memories for youngsters who have only ever heard about these lovely animals," added Henry.

Skelwith Fold's commitment to the natural world has earned it a number of important environmental accolades, including the David Bellamy Conservation Award at its top gold level.

Meanwhile, video footage of this spring's red squirrel activity at the park can be seen on Skelwith Fold's Facebook page which can be accessed via its website at www.skelwith.com

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