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Red squirrel eating a pine cone

Red Squirrels in the UK; Food for Thought

By

27th September 2014

About red squirrels, what they eat, squirrel foods and facts to help you support your local red squirrel population.

The red squirrel is native to Britain but is now only found in limited areas of the UK. The population has been in a steep decline since the introduction of the North American grey squirrel. It is estimated that there are 20 grey squirrels for every red squirrel and this gap is sadly widening.

Red Squirrel Feeding

Current red squirrel strongholds include Scotland, Northumberland and the Lake District. Other smaller pockets of population include Anglesey in Wales, along with Formby, Brownsea Island and the Isle of Wight in England. All these areas are under constant supervision and conservation management and Ark Wildlife support many of these activities. Pressures on population include loss of habitat (red squirrels are woodland dwellers), competition and disease (squirrel poxvirus) carried by the introduced grey squirrel.

Not many of us will be lucky enough to have red squirrels in our local area, let alone visiting our gardens, but if you are one of the lucky ones, here are a few tips on helping them.

Red Squirrel in winter

Red squirrels are naturally woodland dwelling seed eaters. Deciduous woodland offers greater opportunity for foraging but populations are now often restricted to coniferous forests. Pine nuts make up a large part of their wild diet but they also eat many seeds and nuts dependent on availability. Their diet also includes fungi, green shoots, fruit and berries. Red squirrels unlike other small mammals do not hibernate and need to store enough food by ‘caching’; burying it underground and stashing it in tree crevices (sometimes referred to as a larder) in autumn to see them through the winter months. They will also eat copious amounts in the autumn, while food is plentiful to put on weight before the onset of winter and this is important for breeding females, to maintain good condition for producing young in the spring.

Supplementary feeding red squirrels has been shown to be beneficial, especially in times of shortage and research also indicates they do not become dependent on hand-outs, which is important in case supplementary feeding stops. Before starting a program of feeding there are a few steps to follow to ensure best practice and always keep the health of the squirrels as your number one priority.

Red Squirrel in a tree

Food you can provide for Red Squirrels include:
Hazelnuts in Shells
Pine Nuts
Walnut Kernels
Walnut in Shells
Ark Red Squirrel Food
Sunflower Seeds and Peanuts (These are low in calcium and excess feeding can result in calcium deficiency)

Proprietary Red Squirrel Food is an excellent option because it has been developed specifically for the red squirrels dietary requirements and contains added soluble calcium to maintain health, especially for pregnant females.

Red Squirrel eating an apple

Other foods that can be provided in smaller quantities include:
Banana chips
Carrots
Apples
Dried fruit
Other native fruit, vegetables and nuts
(Only ever use raw, unsalted food)

It is best to offer food on a little and often basis to ensure the squirrels continue to forage naturally and you can increase generosity in the autumn to help them gain weight in time for winter and build a cache.

Red Squirrel Feeder

Considerations when feeding red squirrels
With a little care we can provide a safe and reliable source of food for the supplementary feeding of red squirrels to help their wild diet. However, there are a number of unintended hazards to be considered first. Here’s our top tips of Do’s and Don’ts to help you.

Don’t: Encourage red squirrels to cross roads.   Do: Feed them on their side of the street
Don’t Feed them if there are grey squirrels present   Do: Invest in a special Squirrel Feeder
Don’t: Risk accidental drowning   Do: Cover water butts etc. and provide a shallow sided Water Bowl
Don’t: Feed where there are cats   Do: Feed high in trees where squirrels can hide from all predators
Don’t: Feed high quantities of peanuts or fruit   Do: Provide calcium supplements like Cali-Dust and Cuttlefish

Above all enjoy your red squirrels; you’re one of the lucky few. Get in contact with your local Wildlife Trust or Red Squirrel Conservation Group and support them by donating financially or with your time and learn all you can to this struggling species.


Related Internet Links:
UK Red Squirrel Group
Saving Scotlands Red Squirrels
Red Squirrels of Northern England
Anglesey Red Squirrels

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