Photograph courtesy of Sarah Patchett
There are two species of squirrel in Britain: the native red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), in serious decline and now mainly found in northern England, Scotland and Wales and the grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), which having been introduced in the late 19th-early 20th century, has spread into most of England, Wales and into central and south-east Scotland.
Black and albino variants of red squirrels are rare in Britain but are found in mainland Europe. Black and albino variants of grey squirrels have been reported in Britain.
The slow scamper of the black squirrel
BBC News, 5 Oct 2010
Black squirrels (S. carolinensis)
Black squirrels are actually grey squirrels with high levels of black pigment (melanin) in their hair. The dark coat is the result of a naturally occurring mutation of the gene that governs fur pigmentation and is the same specific mutation found in the black squirrels of North America.
It is unlikely that the same mutation occurred by chance in the UK and in North America, suggesting that black squirrels were brought into this country. It is believed Black squirrels were originally introduced to Woburn Park (see the larger squirrel icon on the map below) from North America at the end of the 19th Century and having escaped or through release, have spread mainly East and North-East.
Black squirrels are commonly sighted in Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire (see map and lists below). The first recorded sighting of a black squirrel was in 1912 on the outskirts of Letchworth. The numbers of Black squirrels in the UK is unknown.
Black squirrel distibution map (PDF-1438K)
- Bar Hill
- Eaton Socon
- Fen Drayton
- Great Eversden
- Great Shelford
- Hemingford Grey
- Little Paxton
- Norman Cross
- Papworth Everard
- RAF Brampton
- St. Neots
- Little Staughton
- Lower Stondon
- Milton Bryan
- Old Warden
- Ashwell (first sighted in 1944)
- Brent Pelham
- Letchworth (town mascot)
- Welwyn Garden City
- Other counties where there have been sightings
- East Sussex
- South Scotland
- South Wales
- West Midlands
Albino squirrels (S. carolinensis)
These have an absence of pigment in the hair (which is white) and are also rare in Britain, but have been reported in Essex, Kent, Surrey and Sussex.
If you see a black squirrel
We are collecting information about the distribution of black squirrels. If you see one in a location not indicated in the above list of areas or distribution map, then we would grateful if you would send the location and date of the sighting to firstname.lastname@example.org