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Red Squirrels in Cumbria

Squirrel at Dodd Wood

The biggest drive undertaken to save Britain's native red squirrels from extinction was recently launched. Woodland areas in Cumbria, Northumberland, North Yorkshire and Merseyside have been chosen as reserves, which will be managed to support healthy populations of the creatures, but will be less well suited to the larger grey squirrels.

The red squirrel has been declining since American grey squirrels were introduced in the 19th Century, spreading illness and out-competing them for food. Experts say they now out-number reds by 66 to 1.

The North of England Red Squirrel Conservation Strategy has been launched by Red Alert North England, which is made up of wildlife trusts, the Forestry Commission and landowners.

Squirrels Pantry is a Victorian tea room at the Oakhurst Garden Centre, Lamplugh Road, Cockermouth, situated in a renovated Victorian greenhouse and potting shed. Here you can see the Red Squirrels that visit here to feed.

Unfortunately there have been sitings nearby of grey squirrels, which carry the deadly parapox virus that kills our native red squirrel, please help to save them from extinction.

There have been sightings at Gote Brow, Sunderland, Lorton, Isel and Strawberry Howe. See list on web site

"We need people to keep their eyes out for greys, and report sightings so that they can be dealt with, otherwise we risk losing our reds of which there are many in the Cockermouth area. It would be terrible to loose them to the virus carried by the grey squirrel, and once the greys take over - the reds are lost for good."

There is a Red Alert group for Allerdale, and Susan from Squirrel's Pantry is the volunteer and contact for Cockermouth. The group has a trapper/marksman to whom sightings are sent for action.

So if you see a grey squirrel (alive or dead) - please phone Susan (01900-822180), or text (07817-334309), or email

Squirrel at Threlkeld

Squirrel at Threlkeld

Squirrel at Threlkeld

Squirrel photos above by Ann Bowker.

squirell at Damson Ghyll, Loweswater.
Squirrel at Damson Ghyll, Loweswater

Parapox virus is a disease that is fatal to red squirrels, the origins of which are unknown. It was first confirmed in East Anglia in the 1980s, and since then there have been confirmed cases in red squirrel populations in Lancashire, Cumbria, Durham and Northumberland. It is thought that parapox virus may be a significant factor in the decline of red squirrel populations in the UK.

The parapox virus is present in some grey squirrel populations, but does not result in death. Grey squirrels are thought to carry the disease and pass it on to the reds. The situation for red squirrels is unfortunately much more severe. Any red squirrel with parapox typically dies within 15 days of contracting the virus. There are no red squirrels known to have immunity to this disease.

squirell with parapox.
Squirell with parapox. Picture by Sarah Mcneil

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