Red squirrels of Borrowdale

Red Squirrel in woodland

Borrowdale still has a population of our native red squirrel which we're trying hard to protect – one of a few remaining places in England where this endearing mammal can still be found. Since the introduction of grey squirrels from North America, the number of red squirrels in the whole UK has declined to around 140,00 today, compared to over 2.5 million grey squirrels.

Red squirrels are now an endangered species primarily due to replacement by American greys.  Sadly, the greys carry squirrelpox virus to which they are immune but which is deadly if transmitted to the reds. When infected grey squirrels move into an area of red squirrels, it results in progressive loss of reds and eventual local extinction.

What are we doing to protect red squirrels?

Despite the large extent of National Trust ownership across the Lake District we can’t ensure the survival of red squirrels alone. We work closely with the various volunteer Red Squirrel Conservation groups in the area to deliver coordinated action to promote reds. In Borrowdale we’ve joined forces with the local volunteers of Keswick Red Squirrel Group to focus on what needs to be done to keep reds in the valley.

We consider the needs of red squirrels when undertaking habitat management in our woods. We work to raise awareness of the plight of reds and the causes, we monitoring squirrel populations to understand what is happen, and we control grey squirrels to help stem their spread and that of the devastating squirrelpox virus.

When to spot a red squirrel.

Red squirrels can be seen at any time of year (they don’t hibernate) but 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, or during and after the October half term once the leaves have started to drop.

In spring, squirrels are out and about feeding on emerging foliage and flowers and gradually shed their winter coats. In autumn, they are busy hoarding their winter stores and can be seen scuttling about on the woodland floor. They start their winter moult around September when the more prominent ear tufts can be seen. While they try to put on extra weight for the winter months, the squirrels must also stay athletic enough to leap between trees and evade predators.

Our top 5 squirrel-spotting tips:

1. Look up as they live in the trees

2. They are easier to spot in the morning and late afternoon

3. Listen for rustling in the treetops

4. Falling pine cones or hazel nuts may mean a squirrel is munching above you

5. Take your time – stand still, be very quiet and look and listen.

Best places where you might spot red squirrels in Borrowdale

  • Cockshot Wood and Castle Head wood; follow waymarked trails from our Keswick Lakeside shop through these lovely oak woods right on the edge of Keswick (SatNav CA12 5DJ)
  • Great Wood; follow waymarked woodland trail from the National Trust car park at Great Wood, with glimpses of Skiddaw and Bassenthwaite through the trees. (SatNav CA12 5UP)
  • Moss Mire; follow the path marked to Watendlath from the National Trust car park at Surprise View as it meanders through  the little wood above Lodore Falls (SatNav CA12 5UU)
  • Bowder Stone wood; follow the accessible track from the National Trust car park for ¼ mile through the trees to the Bowder Stone (SatNav CA12 5XA)
  • Castle Crag wood, follow the Cumbria Way beside the river and into the woods that flank Castle Crag's steep sides from the National Trust car park at Rosthwaite (SatNav CA12 5XB)
  • Johnny Wood; if you're feeling up for an adventure take the loop along the river from the National Trust car park at Seatoller, which includes a chain to help you over a rocky scramble above the water, then climb steeply up through the woodland looking out for ferns in the crooks of the trees – indicators of temperate rainforest – and return on the gradual descent through the wood. (SatNav CA12 5XN)

Report your red squirrel sighting

If you spot a red squirrel, you can report your sighting to the Keswick Red Squirrel Group at: sharing any information on the location and condition of the squirrel.