Lakes park acts to repel grey squirrel invasion

Henry Wild says that a special seed blend with aniseed, loved by red squirrels, will help sustain Skelwith's colonies

Henry Wild says that a special seed blend with aniseed, loved by red squirrels, will help sustain Skelwith’s colonies

Guests at Cumbria’s Skelwith Fold caravan park are being recruited to help battle a grey army now marching towards its previously safe haven for red squirrels.

Families visiting the park are being asked to act as informants if they spot any grey invaders, many of which carry the squirrel pox virus which is deadly to reds.

This month, it was reported that greys have got into Grasmere, previously through to be a red squirrel sanctuary because of the surrounding mountains.

It means a risk of grey squirrel numbers sharply rising in Skelwith Fold’s 130 acre grounds near Ambleside where a conservation programme has seen the return of the reds.

This year, said park director Henry Wild, there have been more sightings than ever of the park’s red squirrel colonies, pointing to the success of its efforts.

One of the park's endangered reds fills up at a feeding station

One of the park’s endangered reds fills up at a feeding station

Now the park is working closely with the Westmorland Red Squirrels charity to try and protect its hard-won population of Britain’s best-loved iconic woodland creatures.

Members of Skelwith Fold’s park team as well as holidaymakers are being asked to blow the whistle if they spot any greys in the park’s extensive woodlands.

Henry says the family-owned park is also making an early start on its winter wildlife feeding programme to help the red squirrels maintain their energy levels in the colder months.

It uses a special seed blend containing oil of anise which acts as a magnet for red squirrels.

The report of the invasion came in September from the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency which said that the greys had overwhelmed control methods in the Grasmere area.

But Henry says he hopeful that the army is not unbeatable:

“For over a decade, we have minimised our grey population with a woodland management scheme to ensure that the natural environment of the park remains red-friendly,” he said.

“Key to seeing off the invaders will be prompt action if there is any evidence of them attempting to colonise the woodlands, and here we have an advantage.

“That’s because we can recruit the help of staff and hundreds of guests to tell us of any sightings, after which we can move in and act quickly,” added Henry.

The park’s commitment to the natural world has earned it a number of important environmental accolades, including the David Bellamy Conservation Award at its top gold level.

Meanwhile, Henry says that guests will be helping with sightings until the end of November when the park closes for the season, after which staff vigilance will be stepped up.

Skelwith Fold was this year crowned as Lakeland’s top holiday park in the Cumbria Tourism Awards, and provides luxury glamping pods, touring pitches, and holiday homes for private owners.