They’re one of the UK’s most famous and most cute native species, but Sciurus vulgaris have had a tough couple of centuries. The introduction of the grey squirrel from the US in the 1870s reduced the red population from around 3.5 million to between 120,000 and 160,000. Poor old Nutkin. However, there are still thriving communities around the country – here’s where to find red squirrels in the UK.
Below, you’ll find a list of fluffy hotspots, along with links to more in-depth resources and a short guide to spotting the critters.
How to watch red squirrels online
If all you’re after is some armchair red-squirrel watching, head to Balmoral Castle for its live stream. Who needs pay TV?
Top five UK red squirrel spots
Before we begin, bear in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list and there’s no guarantee that the squirrels will lay out the red carpet (apologies) for your visit. So, before the complaints from the Northumberland, County Down and Isle of Wight squirrels roll in, note that you can find them in all three places (scroll to the next section for lists of locations).
Loch of the Lowes, Perthshire
As red squirrel spots go, you can’t beat Scotland. And Loch of the Lowes, near Dunkeld, should be at the top of your list: not only can you see them all year round, but there are special squirrel feeders and even rope walkways so you can get as close as possible. Plus, if you get bored of red squirrels – impossible, I know – you may even spy a beaver between April and September.
Aira Force, Cumbria
Let me get my excuses in early: there are a quite a few squirrel hotspots in Cumbria and everyone has their favourite (Allan Bank, a National Trust property near Grasmere, is particularly famous). However, I’m going for Aira Force for its sheer beauty, including a dramatic waterfall, and the fact that a “squirrel ranger” looks after the local population. Adorable.
That’s right, there are red squirrels within touching distance of Liverpool and they’re quickly overtaking the beach as the area’s top tourist attraction. The National Trust has put together a handy walk to maximise your chances of seeing one – although I’d suggest heading straight to Squirrel Wood, rather than… Nicotine Wood.
Brownsea Island, Dorset
Ask someone in the south of England where you can see red squirrels and this tiny island near Poole will probably be the answer. It’s the place on this list where you’re most likely to see one – famous last words – but you’ll have to shell out £7.50 (or £3.75 for a child) for the privilege. Spring and autumn are your best bets, but we’d recommend hopping on a ferry at any time of the year as there’s plenty to do.
Pentraeth Forest, Angelsey
Before their re-introduction, this was the last place you could see red squirrels on Anglesey. Happily, they are now thriving in other areas of the island, such as Plas Newydd (which has the largest population in Wales), but I’d still recommend getting lost in Pentraeth Forest for the true, wild experience.
If you don’t fancy traveling to one of the locations above, or if you want to find out more about red squirrel conservation, The Wildlife Trusts, National Trust and Woodland Trust websites are all excellent resources. They also contain more squirrel hotspots than you can shake a stick, or a handful of nuts, at…
Red squirrel spotting tips
Spotting red squirrels in the UK can be very frustrating. First, in most places, they’re incredibly rare; second, they’re incredibly shy; and third, they’re incredibly fast.
But don’t let that put you off. To become a seasoned squirrel tracker, you’ve got to come equipped – preferably first thing in the morning in spring and autumn – with a good pair of binoculars, some quiet-ish clothes and buckets of patience.
A good place to position yourself is near, but not directly next to, feeding platforms or bird feeders – and always remember that, like us, red squirrels don’t like bad weather…
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