About red squirrels

Red Squirrel (c) Colin Beacom Red Squirrel (c) Colin Beacom

The red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is the only species of squirrel native to the UK.

About

Red squirrels are most commonly found in woodlands, particularly coniferous woodlands, as a result of the invasion of non-native grey squirrels into deciduous woodlands.

Red squirrels feed mostly on the seeds of trees; in fact you often find conifer cones nibbled in their attempt to get to the seeds within. They also feast on hazelnuts where they crack the shells in half.

Red squirrels make a ‘drey’ which is a rough nest made up of twigs, leaves and strips of bark and these are found high in the tree canopy in a dome-like structure.

How to identify

Easily distinguished from the grey squirrel by its smaller size, reddish-brown fur (although it can look darker and duller in the winter) and tufts of hair on the end of the ears. During the winter the coat of the red squirrel changes and becomes a much darker shade to help keep it warm in the cold weather.

Conservation Status

Red squirrels are afforded the highest level of protection in Northern Ireland under the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985. The plight of the red squirrel is now recognised in local, regional, national and international conservation policies – it is featured in the Bern Convention and is a priority species in both the UK and Northern Ireland Biodiversity Action Plans.

Threats

The main threat to red squirrels is the spread of the invasive non-native grey squirrel. Grey squirrels are larger and more robust and have replaced reds in many parts of Northern Ireland, out-competing them for food and habitat and introducing squirrel pox, a disease that is fatal to reds. There are now only a handful of refuges left for red squirrels in Northern Ireland.