Red alert as Cumbria park takes on grey squirrels
Holidaymakers and residents in South Cumbria are joining forces in a bid to restore red squirrels to an area of the countryside where they once thrived.
The organisers of the initiative, Silverdale holiday park and the charity Westmorland Red Squirrels, hope that their efforts will herald a welcome return of the native reds.
Their campaign was stepped up this summer at a well-attended public meeting at the park where holiday guests and local people were urged to become intelligence gatherers.
The charity’s Bob Cartwright said grey squirrels are the single greatest threat to the red squirrel population, and it was vital to know where the greys were most prolific.
If people on holiday can help pinpoint where they regularly spot grey squirrels, he said, it might be possible to see colonies of reds back within a few years.
Silverdale holiday park has pledged £5,000 to help fund the project, and business owner Michael Holgate told the meeting he had a special reason to support the cause.
As a youngster growing up on his family’s holiday park, said Michael, he had many treasured memories of spotting red squirrels nesting, feeding and playing in the park’s woodland.
That was 40 years ago, Michael explained, but grey squirrels have since invaded the Silverdale area and robbed the reds of their habitats and food resources.
Thinning the number of greys, said Michael, would create more red habitats and help prevent the spread of the squirrel pox virus which does not affect greys but rapidly kills reds.
Action was needed quickly, he added, as there are estimated to be only 140,000 red squirrels left in Britain, of which some 5,000 reside in Cumbria, compared with 2.5 million greys nationwide.
Michael added that there were many ways in which holiday guests and local volunteers could make a difference:
“As well as reporting grey sightings to the charity, there are other practical measures people can take, such as using squirrel-proof bird feeders, and trapping greys in their gardens,” he said.
“Our hundred-plus park staff have all been enrolled as red champions to help with the task, and together I believe we could soon see these lovely native creatures back with us,” said Michael.
Silverdale and the five other holiday parks belonging to the Holgates group were recently awarded the David Bellamy Gold Conservation Award for their efforts to protect the natural environment.
There is more information about Holgates parks at www.holgates.co.uk