How and where to see red squirrels
Autumn is a great time of year to watch red squirrels. Follow our top tips for an encounter to remember.
RED SQUIRREL WATCHING TIPS
1 Know your reds from your greys
Remember that squirrels vary in colour – some greys appear almost russet, and both species have near-black variants. Use size, build, location, hair and ear-tuft length as extra clues to clinch the identification.
2 Pick the peak season
In autumn, naive youngsters are on the move and adults and juveniles alike may be too busy caching food to notice observers. In late winter (January and February), courting squirrels are also less wary than usual.
3 Watch the forecast
Squirrels do not hibernate but are less active on cold, wet or windy days. In deciduous woodland, bare winter branches make movement easier to spot. A bright morning after overnight snow is also a gift – keep an eye out for tracks on the ground and on snow-covered branches.
4 Visit hides and feeding stations
Nowadays, reserves and country parks in red squirrel country often have hides for watching them (see opposite for some top locations). Many sites also offer guided walks to find squirrels.
5 Search for pinch points
Red squirrels use linear features to move around. Narrow necks of woodland and places where trees meet over tracks are good places to sit and wait.
6 Plan a sleepover
Hotels, B&Bs and camp sites in red squirrel hotspots often install feeders and advertise that they have the animals in their grounds. Center Parcs in Whinfell Forest, Cumbria, even has a red squirrel ranger to help you.
7 Maximise your field of view
Scan your surroundings slowly and be aware of your peripheral vision – you’re more likely to spot movement glimpsed out of the corner of your eye.
8 Create a feeding station
If you’re lucky enough to live in a red squirrel hotspot, why not maintain your own feeding station? Find out more.
WHERE TO GO
The main red squirrel strongholds are in Scotland (120,000 individuals) and in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (40,000).
There is a smaller, recovering population in northern England, and a handful of fragmented local populations in Wales, Lancashire and Merseyside, and on the south coast.
1 Loch Garten RSPB, Abernethy Forest
2 Highland Wildlife Park, Kingussie
3 Red Squirrel Trail, Dalbeattie Forest, Dumfries and Galloway
4 Mount Stewart House, near Belfast
5 Merlin Park Woods, City of Galway
6 Fota Wildlife Park, Cork
7 Newborough Forest, Anglesey
8 Woodhorn Museum, Northumberland
9 Kielder Castle Visitor Centre, Kielder Forest, Northumberland
10 Talkin Tarn Country Park, Cumbria
11 Killhope: The North of England Lead Mining Museum, County Durham
12 Whinlatter Forest Visitor Centre, Keswick, Cumbria
13 Center Parcs, Whinfell, Cumbria
14 Dodd Wood, Keswick, Cumbria
15 Snaizeholme Red Squirrel Trail, Widdale, North Yorkshire
16 Formby Point, Lancashire
17 Brownsea Island, Dorset
18 Briddlesford Woods, Isle of Wight
19 St Peter’s Valley, Jersey