Help us protect the Red Squirrels at Formby

Red Squirrel sitting upright eating a nut on the woodland floor at Formby

Red Squirrels were once a common sight across the UK but, since the introduction of the North American Grey Squirrel in the 19th Century, their numbers have declined. Find how you can help us to look after the Red Squirrels at Formby from infections like Squirrel Pox.

Why are there Red Squirrels at Formby?

Formby is within the North Merseyside and West Lancashire Red Squirrel Stronghold, one of a few refuges left for red squirrels across the UK. We are very proud of our red squirrel population at Formby, and want to do what’s best for them.  Anytime you visit the woodland areas here you are likely to see a red squirrel. 

Are they still at threatened species?

Yes, and we need your help to protect them from deadly diseases by not feeding them.

What is squirrel pox?

Squirrel pox is a highly infectious disease that is fatal to red squirrels.  Grey squirrels are carriers of the disease but do not suffer any symptoms. It only takes 1 grey squirrel to introduce the disease into a red squirrel population after which it can spread rapidly.

There has been several confirmed cases of squirrel pox at Formby recently (autumn 2019). Squirrel pox is carried by grey squirrels but they do not normally suffer from any symptoms. However, it is often fatal to red squirrels which will develop lesions around the eyes, mouth and on the paws. 

Can humans or other animals catch it?

The disease does not affect people or domestic pets although it is always best to keep pets away from sick or injured wildlife. People should avoid handling sick red squirrels or carcasses unless they have been trained in safe handling. 

Why can’t we feed the squirrels?

In the past we sold squirrel food so our visitors could help us feed the reds. This has led to the squirrels expecting to be fed in this way, but it’s something we’ve been actively discouraging in recent years. And has led to us changing the way we feed them too.

Encouraging squirrels to come together to feed by providing feeding boxes or scatter feeding on the ground, increases the risk of infections being transferred.  Squirrels are also susceptible to diseases caused by bacteria we can carry on our skin. The more people there are feeding the squirrels, the more this risk increases. For these reasons we have stopped all supplementary feeding.

How are the squirrels being fed?

At Formby there is enough natural food in the woodlands for the squirrels to forage and thrive.  They eat a variety of food, berries, lichen, and fungi, as well as pine cones.
Help us, help them by not feeding but enjoy watching them, chasing around, and up and down the trees, and help us maintain a healthy population of red squirrels at National Trust Formby.

What should I do if I find a sick Red Squirrel?

Members of the public are encouraged to contact a member of the team at National Trust Formby if they find a sick red squirrel while visiting the National Trust. If residents see sick or injured red squirrels in the local area they are encouraged to follow the guidance available here: https://www.lancswt.org.uk/news/squirrel-pox-outbreak-formby 

Please do not bring sick squirrels or carcasses to the National Trust.