Where to see red squirrels

Where to see red squirrels

Red squirrel (c) Mark Hamblin/2020Vision

Red squirrels

With their distinctive russet fur, tufted ears and twitching tail, a red squirrel is a captivating sight. Autumn is a great time to see them as they forage nuts to cache for the long winter months. The introduction of the grey squirrel from North America caused our once common red squirrel to retreat, disappearing from great swathes of the country. The total UK population is now thought to be as low as 120,000 animals, with less than 40,000 animals found in Ireland. 

Tune into the sights and sounds of the woodland and forest, listen for the squirrels’ distinctive chattering call and look out for the gnawed husks of pine cones both on the ground and raining down from above!

Find red squirrels

The introduction of the invasive non-native grey squirrel from North America has caused our red squirrel numbers to plummet,  partly due to competition from the larger American for food and habitat, but also due to the deadly ‘squirrel pox’ virus carried by the greys, which can can cause entire populations of red squirrel to die out. 

Red squirrels are now only found in a handful of refuges in Northern Ireland including the Glens of Antrim, west Fermanagh, the Mournes, and the North West which is why we're working to protect them, alongside local red squirrel groups.  Glenarm and Straidkilly, in Co Antrim, are two of our best nature reserves for spotting reds with regular sightings. 

County Antrim

Ballycastle Forest
The Glens Red Squirrel Group offers arranged walks through the forest, where reds may be spotted along the way.

Ballypatrick Forest
The Glens Red Squirrel Group maintain many squirrel feeders throughout the forest – you may even spot a red on one as you drive in. Arranged safaris are also provided.

Glenariff Forest Park
Red squirrels in the forest park are protected by volunteers from the Glens Red Squirrel Group. The group offer arranged walks through the forest park and maintain squirrel feeders, providing a good chance to see reds.

Glenarm Nature Reserve 
Located within Glenarm Estate and incorporating the largest area of semi-natural woodland in County Antrim, Glenarm Nature Reserve is a great site to spot this iconic species. Accessible to Ulster Wildlife members by permission only.

Straidkilly Nature Reserve 
This small nature reserve, perched above Glenarm Village, is a great place to watch red squirrels feasting on nuts in the hazel woodland. 

County Armagh

Camlough Forest 
Situated in the hills overlooking Newry, this coniferous forest offers walkers a good chance of seeing reds in pines at the top of the mountain.

Slieve Gullion Forest Park
Located within the Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), red squirrels in the forest park are protected and maintained by the Ring of Gullion and Cooley Red Squirrel Group. There is a good chance you will see a red in the needleless larch trees where they feed on the seeds of the larch cones.

Tievecrom Mountain, Newry
A woodland that offers incredible views of the mythical gap of the North, red squirrels can frequently be found in this 325-hectare plantation.

County Derry/Londonderry

Muff Glen
Red squirrels are frequently be sighting in this mixed woodland, near Eglinton, and are protected by the North West Red Squirrel Group.

County Down

Kilbroney Forest Park
The ancient oak woodland at Kilbroney is home to iconic reds. Head towards Fiddler's Green - a small clearing at the southern edge of the oakwood - to catch a glimpse of them or the woodland area near the campsite.

Mount Stewart
Take a walk around the National Trust house or gardens to search for red squirrels, which are most commonly seen behind the house and to the north of the lake.

Tollymore Forest Park 
The Tollymore Red Squirrel Group is helping to protect reds in the forest by supplementary feeding and through educational activities and events. There are also several walks in the forest which offer a chance to spot red squirrels.

Montalto Estate
After years of absence, red squirrels have returned to Montalto Estate thanks to dedicated conservation efforts and volunteer-led action by the Heart of Down Red Squirrel Group. Feeders located around the estate provide a great opportunity to see them.

County Tyrone

Gortin Glen
Located at the western gateway to the Sperrin Mountains, there are many walks through the forest that offer a chance of seeing reds.

County Fermanagh

Castle Archdale Country Park
Castle Archdale Country Park between Enniskillen and Kesh is an excellent location to spot red squirrels and a host of other native wildlife. Keep an eye out when you are driving in and slow down as reds are often seen on the driveway.

Ely Lodge Forest
Ely Lodge Forest adjacent to the main A46 Lough Shore Road between Enniskillen and Belleek is a hotspot for red squirrels and has information boards which reveal more about the life of Fermanagh's reds. 

Florence Court and Crom Estate 
The beautiful 18th-century house and grounds, maintained by The National Trust, offers 15km trails where you may be lucky to spot some red squirrels. 

Slieve Beagh 
The mountainous area, which straddles the border between County Monaghan, Country Fermanagh and Tyrone, is a hotspot for red squirrels and is managed and conserved for reds by the Fermanagh Red Squirrel Group.

What to look for

Red squirrels are most often found in coniferous woods, feasting on hazelnuts by cracking the shell in half. You may also find pine cones that have been nibbled, leaving what looks like an apple core behind. Squirrels make a rough nest, called a 'drey', of twigs, leaves and strips of bark in the fork of a branch, high in the tree canopy. Like most wild animals, red squirrels tend to be shy of people, so keep as quiet as you can. A good first place to look is on feeders if they are around, as red squirrels are just as keen on peanuts as their grey cousins.