Forestry Commission logo
England's Woods & Forests
We are soon to launch our new website for the public forests in England. Take an early look at the beta site

Squirrels at Whinlatter

Red squirrel in young Douglas fir in Wythop Forest. North West EnglandThe red squirrel is native to Britain, but its future is increasingly uncertain as the introduced American grey squirrel expands its range across the mainland. There are estimated to be only 140,000 red squirrels left in Britain, with over 2.5 million greys. The Forestry Commission is working with partners in projects across Britain to develop a long-term conservation strategy that deters greys and encourages reds.

At Whinlatter, we work with Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE) to protect the squirrels and help them to thrive. Whinlatter was designated a Red Squirrel reserve in 2005 to protect the thriving squirrel population in and around the forest. Forestry Commission England (FCE) and Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE) are working in partnership at Whinlatter and in the surrounding landscape to ensure red squirrels continue to thrive. As part of this work, the partners have begun a monitoring programme around the forest.

Monitoring Program

The monitoring project kicked off in 2016. The camera traps are deployed andRed Squirrel on a nut feeder. baited for 2 weeks, before being collected and the images downloaded. This will happen quarterly (March, June, September, December) for 1 year, and then may be extended beyond this if more data is needed.

There is a team of volunteers working to set up the camera trap sites, keeping the feeders full and then bringing the cameras in when the survey period is finished. The images are collated, and the data is being analysed to monitor the populations here at Whinlatter in conjunction with similar projects at other red squirrel strongholds and reserves in Northern England.

Reporting Sightings

We encourage you to report sightings of both red and grey squirrels so the population can be monitored and grey squirrels can be controlled appropriately for the area. This helps to support our work for the species and provides invaluable information.


Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

Red squirrels build large nests, called dreys, often in the forks of tree trunks. Red squirrel in larch. EnnerdaleThey are usually solitary, only coming together to mate. But they do not mind social interactions and related squirrels will share dreys to keep warm during cold winter months. Reds range widely, especially when looking for mates.

Red squirrels produce young, called kittens in the spring and can reproduce a second time in the summer if conditions are right. Watch for courtship displays in the trees. Females usually have 2-3 kittens but litters can be of up to 6 young, born 45-48 days after mating. Females bring up the young and are territorial over their brood.

Between 20 and 50 per cent of kittens survive to adulthood. Young red squirrels are weaned off their mother's milk after about 8 - 12 weeks, when they have developed a complete set of teeth.

Red squirrels are seed eaters. They favour pine cones, but also eat larch and spruce. Their diet also includes fungi, shoots and fruits of shrubs and trees, and sometimes birds' eggs. They can choose between good and bad nuts by holding them in their paws. Reds do not hibernate and store fungi in trees to eat over the winter months. When food is plentiful, they put on weight in the autumn to help them through the winter. This is important for breeding females, so that they are in good condition for producing young.

Grey squirrelThe main threats to the survival of the reds are the increasing number of grey squirrels, disease (squirrel poxvirus) and road traffic. Greys can feed more efficiently in broadleaved woodlands and can survive at densities of up to 8 per hectare. The density of reds is up to 1 per hectare in broadleaved woodland but can be as low as 0.1 per hectare in coniferous woodland.
The main predators of red squirrels are birds of prey, such as goshawks and pine marten. In some urban areas, such as Jersey, domestic cats are also a threat when squirrels go into gardens to feed.

Red squirrels usually have russet red fur, although coat colour can vary with RED SQUIRREL.some reds appearing very grey (and some grey squirrels can have red fur down their backs and on their feet). They are small with ear tuffs - large tuffs in winter - while grey squirrels are stockier and rounder. There is little difference between males and females, which makes it difficult to distinguish between the sexes.

Red squirrels are very elusive and spend much of their time in the tree canopy. Telltale signs to look for include large dreys in trees, scratch marks on bark, and chewed pine cones that look like chewed apple cores. The 'chuk chuk' noise is a vocalisation used often not just when frightened and the foot tapping - perhaps better to say when agitated as they do it when angry or not happy - if they are frightened they've probably disappeared by then.

How we manage our woods
The survival of the red squirrel may depend on the design and management of conifer forest, their preferred habitat. The Forestry Commission are working with partners in projects across Britain to assess ways of designing and managing forests to develop a long term strategy that deters greys and encourages reds. Other current work includes the Northumberland Kielder Forest Project, in partnership with the Mammals Trust UK and Newcastle University.

Last updated: 7th March 2018


Recreation Ranger
01768 778469

England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.