Once common across the country, the sight of a red squirrel is now something of a rarity outside of its remaining strongholds in Scotland, the Lake District and Northumberland.
Reds have declined rapidly since the 1950s since the introduction of North American native grey squirrels which have out-competed them for resources and have spread squirrel pox, a disease that is fatal to their more vibrantly coloured counterparts.
Red squirrels are most often found in coniferous woods and this one was photographed near a pool of water in Hawes.
Despite their slender numbers in Yorkshire, there has been a reintroduction of the species in Wensleydale.
As reported by The Yorkshire Post’s Roger Ratcliffe, a century ago reds were common in woods and plantations throughout all three Ridings of Yorkshire but they were virtually wiped out following the severe winter of 1962-63 and the spread of squirrel pox.
Ratcliffe reports that the red squirrel’s recovery in the Dales took off when the late Hugh Kemp and his wife Jane encouraged a small colony around their farm, Mirk Pot, 1,200ft up in a remote offshoot of Wensleydale called Snaizeholme.
Now the Snaizeholme red squirrel viewing area lies in what has become the Widdale Red Squirrel Reserve. Courtesy of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and local landowners, the public can visit the viewing point to see them in the wild.
The viewpoint and surrounding woodland is said to offer an excellent chance of getting superb views of red squirrels as they visit a feeder in a woodland clearing.
In what could be a new boost for reds through habitat creation, an ambitious project to establish a Northern Forest of 50m trees along the M62 corridor will begin in March. The 25-year project led by The Woodland Trust will see new woodland created in and around Leeds and other major urban centres in the North.
The project has been welcomed by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, whose chief executive Rob Stoneman said: “Yorkshire Wildlife Trust welcomes the initiative and we look forward to playing our part in making the Northern Forest a reality.
“It is important that trees are planted in the right places and not on already good quality, open ground habitat and it is just as important to continue to fight to protect our ancient woodlands alongside this initiative, in order to maximise the benefits to wildlife such as red squirrels.”
Yorkshire Post columnist and Yorkshire Wolds-based wildlife artist Robert Fuller said he too was “heartened” by the Northern Forest plans.
“We have a small pocket of red squirrels in the Yorkshire Dales but they are under constant pressure from the advances of the grey squirrels along with the felling of trees. Any efforts to try to increase red squirrels in the Yorkshire Dales should be encouraged,” he said.