Red Squirrels at the Yorkshire Arboretum

by Handy Mag

A new project to introduce a small breeding group of native Red Squirrels, Sciurus vulgaris, opened at The Yorkshire Arboretum this month. Supported by The Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation it offers an opportunity to learn more about this increasingly rare native mammal.

The squirrels are housed safely in an open-topped enclosure designed and built entirely by Yorkshire Arboretum staff and volunteers. With a perimeter of steel panels with a non-grip coating and a 3m no-leap zone all around, it is designed to keep Red Squirrels in and Grey Squirrels out. The fence circles 2500m2 of ground, including a grove of oaks and other trees, in which the squirrels can live naturally.

Visitors to the Yorkshire Arboretum can book tickets to view the project. Access is via double door ‘airlocks’ to keep the squirrels safe. A boardwalk reaching up to 1.5 m from the ground, brings you close to the lower tree branches, where hopefully you will have an encounter with a squirrel.

Ben Paterson, Red Squirrel Officer at the Yorkshire Arboretum comments: “It will take time to build up the number of squirrels living here and please remember they may not always be visible as they sleep or are in their dreys with young.”

The project will help boost Red Squirrel numbers in Britain by providing space for a new breeding colony, whose offspring may be used for reintroduction projects. The three squirrels have come from participants in the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) Red Squirrel Studbook network, which aims to ensure a genetically diverse population in captivity.

As part of The Yorkshire Arboretum and Tree Health Centre’s mission to promote healthy trees and woodland, one of the main aims of the project is to educate visitors about the challenges Grey Squirrels cause for Red Squirrels and our woodlands.

Red Squirrels were once a common sight in the English countryside, living in harmony with our woodlands. Over the past century they have been wiped out from most areas by squirrel pox, a disease carried by the Grey Squirrel, introduced from North America around 1900. Today the Red Squirrel is classed as endangered, with less than 30,000 living in England.

However, the Grey Squirrel problem extends beyond this. They cause damage to woodland by stripping bark from trees to feed on the sap and nutrients beneath. Many of our native broadleaved trees are at risk. Damaged trees are less likely to grow into mature trees, which produce timber and support our ecosystem.

The Red Squirrel Enclosure costs about £5000 per year to maintain, covering expenses such as feeding the squirrels, veterinary fees and infrastructure maintenance and development. If you would like to support the project, there are many ways to get involved from visiting the arboretum to adopting a Red Squirrel or making a donation.

Visit to find out more.

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