Go nuts for Red Squirrel Week

Red squirrel feeding on the woodland floor (c) Ronald Surgenor

Autumn is fast approaching, bringing with it one of our favourite weeks of the year: Red Squirrel Week (23 – 29 September). Shanna Rice, Red Squirrel Officer, extols the virtues of this beautiful but rare animal, and how you can help safeguard its future.

Autumn is one of the red squirrels busiest times of year. All the nuts, seeds and berries are ripe and ready for picking. Our forests are full of the hustle and bustle of reds gathering food and hiding it away for winter. They will dig holes for seeds and nuts, and stash bits of fungi behind tree bark. This very act makes red squirrels a vital part of the forest ecosystem.

Red squirrels are notoriously forgetful and will forget where they buried many of their stashes of food. This means they help plant the next generation of trees throughout the forest, helping it regenerate and continue.  Why do they do this? Well, contrary to popular belief, red squirrels don’t hibernate in winter, and so have to stock up on food in autumn to last them until spring. The myth came about because, like us, red squirrels don’t like cold, wet weather, so can stay in their drey for up to six days with no food, which means they’re seen much less often in winter.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel (c) Christine Cassidy

Red squirrels are active during the day and the best time to see them is early morning or after they’ve had their afternoon nap. They like to spend most of their time up in the treetops but in autumn, you often are treated to the sight of them digging holes at the base of trees to hide their food. Listen out as you walk through the forest, as you’ll probably hear the scratching of claws in branches and the rustle of dry autumn leaves before you see them. They might chatter crossly, stamp their feet and shake their tail at you if you surprise them, especially if they accidentally drop their food. Remember red squirrels don’t like dogs, so keep your four-legged friends on a lead if you want any chance of seeing one!

Red squirrels are not as numerous as they used to be since the introduction of the invasive grey squirrel and are only found in small pockets around Northern Ireland. Ulster Wildlife along with red squirrel groups and many volunteers are working to support and grow vital red squirrel strongholds. This Red Squirrel Week, groups are organising events to celebrate these rare and beautiful animals and would love you to get involved. 

If you’re lucky enough to see a red squirrel, please remember to log your sighting to help with the 2019 All Ireland Squirrel and Pine Marten Survey.

Unfortunately time is running out to save our red squirrels. Without your support, we won’t be able to continue our vital conservation work to protect these iconic creatures in places. Join us and help ensure our red squirrels today are not lost forever.

Nuts about red squirrels?

Our precious red squirrels need your help to survive. Join us today and ensure they don't become a thing of the past. 

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Red squirrel (c) Graham Service