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.
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
Red squirrels are widespread across Northern Ireland but, in many areas, you are much more likely to see their grey cousins. Luckily, there are still numerous places locally where red squirrels can be spotted and in recent years their populations have been increasing, thanks to conservation efforts.
What to look for
Red squirrels are found in both deciduous and coniferous woods in Northern Ireland; areas with plenty of hazelnuts in autumn are particularly favoured. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The mountainous area, which straddles the border between County Monaghan, Country Fermanagh and Tyrone, is a hotspot for red squirrels.