The native Red Squirrel of the UK has had a tough time. Not only has it been pushed northwards and in to isolated pockets since the introduction in 1876 of its more aggressive grey relative from the USA, but these invaders have also helped spread the deadly Squirrel Pox Virus with tragic results. The introduction of the grey squirrel in to the UK was not one of the smartest moves by our predecessors. As with many introductions of 'alien' species the effects on the native fauna and flora can be devastating. There are many such examples of such harmful animal and plant introductions from different countries around the planet.
Close to where I live there is a small colony of Red Squirrels that inhabit the pine woods at the back of the sand dunes on the coast at Formby. This is a well known site where it has always been easy for the visitor to have a close encounter with the squirrels. I believe the red squirrels were actually introduced there many years ago where they flourished until 2008 when the dreaded Squirrel Pox Virus struck and virtually wiped out the population. The National Trust that manages the site have been working tirelessly ever since the outbreak and their efforts have been rewarded with eradication of the virus and the numbers of red squirrels bouncing back.
The crash in the population is one of the reasons why I have not visited the site in such a long time. However, with numbers of squirrels returning I thought I was due a revisit, especially as looking through my library I don't appear to have that many photographs of them. I think on my previous visits, which will be back around 2006 when I first started photography, I tended to be sidetracked by a fox that commonly visited or various woodland birds.
The site has changed a little since my last visit with noticeably lower numbers of slightly more wary squirrels and the construction of a number of feeding platforms on a number of trees around the woodland.
I had to wait quite a long time for some squirrels to appear in front of me and my patient waiting, whilst sat leaning against a tree trunk, was eventually rewarded. One thing I particularly noticed was the high number of squirrels that were quite dark in colouration which is more typical of the red squirrels that you see in continental Europe. Given that this population was, I believe, originally introduced from squirrels brought in from Europe it may be some of these dark fur genes are now being expressed as the population recovers from a limited number of breeding adults.
It was great to the red squirrels doing so well after their numbers were so severely impacted by the pox. Red squirrels are very endearing animals and it always good to watching scampering across branches and around tree trunks and basically going about their daily 'squirrely' business.
I enjoyed my brief session there in late November last year, as they are great fun to photograph and intend to hopefully return in the near future so that I can add to my collection of images.