The Prince of Wales has launched a conservation project which he hopes will realise his dream that red squirrels can thrive again in Britain.
The animal is native to the UK but its future is increasingly uncertain as the American grey squirrel introduced into the country expands its range across the mainland.
Prince Charles wants the newly formed Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE) group to help preserve what he called “the most iconic of species”.
He visited Hutton-in-the-Forest, Cumbria, to unveil the five-year scheme and meet volunteers who are involved in red squirrel conservation projects in the northern region.
The RSNE project will bring together existing and new programmes of red squirrel conservation work with a combined value of £3.1m and will seek extra funding.
It aims among other things to work with landowners, volunteers and the wider community to remove grey squirrels and to monitor the red squirrel populations.
As patron of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust (RSST), Prince Charles praised the partnership between the RSST, Natural England, the Forestry Commission and the Wildlife Trusts.
He told volunteers: “It is really only by working together that we will have a chance of preserving this most iconic of species.
“Reds are now returning to the woodland and the gardens where they were once terrorised by greys in certain areas and this is something to celebrate.
“My dream is that red squirrels might thrive in the UK and it is perhaps here in the north of England that we can dare to think it might be a reality, thanks to people like yourselves.
“Two years ago I said I thought the red squirrel could be our national mascot, so if we save this iconic species there is just a chance this might actually happen.”
There are 17 red squirrel strongholds in northern England with an estimated 140,000 population left in Britain – but more than 2.5 million greys, according to the Forestry Commission.
The RSNE project will co-ordinate red squirrel conservation action across parts of Yorkshire and the North-East, the North-West and County Durham.
Prince Charles was presented with a wooden squirrel named in his honour.