Red squirrel kitten recovering after traumatic start
The four-week- old male squirrel was found on the forest floor at Ainsdale National Nature Reserve, say Natural England volunteers.
It is now being cared for by Rachel Miller, Red Squirrel Field Officer for the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside.
Rachel said: “Our first priority was to get him warmed up and then rehydrated.
“After three days of TLC he now has a lot more energy and a good appetite. He weighed just 89g but now weighs 93g so is putting on weight already.”
Rachel worked out his age because his eyes were open by he has no upper incisor teeth. She said: “It means he was born sometime in mid-January.”
Usually, the red squirrel breeding season begins at the end of December and beginning of January. The first litter is then usually born around March. A second litter may be born in the summer.
A mild winter and an abundant food source is most likely the reason for the early start this year.
Rachel said: “He will be with me for the next few weeks and, hopefully, we’ll release him later in the spring.
“Can I stress that it is really important not to touch or move any baby animal without first seeking advice. Often the mother is nearby and may be in the process of moving her young somewhere else.
“Young animals have a better chance of long term survival in the wild if they stay with their mum.”
In this case the mother was nowhere around and, last year, Rachel looked after and released a squirrel which had been picked up and dropped by a magpie.
Just 10 years ago, the red squirrel was a common sight in North-West woodlands, parks and gardens. In 2008, a squirrel pox outbreak wiped out 80 per cent of the red squirrel population on the Sefton Coast.
Grey squirrels carry the deadly squirrel pox virus but do not suffer from any symptoms. However it is fatal to red squirrels and can wipe out entire colonies. The greys also outcompete the red squirrels for resources and strip trees of nuts before they are ripe enough for reds to digest, leaving them to starve.
However things are looking up with red squirrels on the Sefton Coast now up to 80 per cent of pre-pox figures, as a result of habitat improvement work by the Wildlife
The Wildlife Trusts are now leading the largest ever recruitment drive for red squirrel volunteers under the banner of Red Squirrel United. With the help of National Lottery funding, the Trusts aim to increase volunteer numbers from 500 to 5000 to save the UK’s last red squirrels.
You can support the Last Red Squirrel campaign which can be found at the website at http://www.lancswt.org.uk/last-red- squirrel.