Red squirrels of Borrowdale

Borrowdale is a stronghold for red squirrels © Maurice Pankhurst

Borrowdale is a stronghold for red squirrels

Borrowdale today has a population of red squirrels which we're trying hard to protect. However, the number of reds in the valley has been declining. The figures have almost certainly been fluctuating as the climate changes to the advantage of their predators.

Today red squirrels are moving toward extinction in England pursued by the non-native grey squirrel whose appetite and ability to breed more quickly gives it a distinct advantage over its red cousin.

What are we doing to protect red squirrels?

The simple but often misunderstood response is 'culling grey squirrels'. The grey squirrel was not recorded in the Borrowdale woodlands until 2001. We care for the majority of the woodlands in Borrowdale and responded quickly to this new threat. We started working with members of the public and the National Park Authority to put in place measures to control the number of grey squirrels. Over the years the work of local Keswick resident Alan Beck, supported by the Trust and the Forestry Commission, developed an efficient trapping system that targets only grey squirrels.

The traps have a dual purpose:

  • Trapping grey squirrels
  • Supplementary feeding of red squirrels when natural food is scarce;

Maintaining a constant food supply has helped to maintain current red squirrel numbers.

Squirrel pox

Our experience also suggests that by suppressing the number of grey squirrels, we can reduce the spread of a pox virus they carry. Red squirrels invariably die once infected. The virus is member of the Herpes complex and it may be that this virus is more likely to break out when a grey population reaches high densities. So a reduction in numbers may well reduce cross infection rates. In other areas where no control measures have been put in place the red squirrel has always become locally extinct in just a few years. We remain committed to the current control programme and protecting our red squirrels.

See a red squirrel in the wild

The best time to come for a walk in Borrowdale's woods and see squirrels is in spring or early summer before the leaf canopy hides them from view.