Did you know forests cover nearly one-third of the Earth’s land surface? Forests are vital for the planet’s health and our wellbeing. They help combat climate change, protect biodiversity, and are a place we can interact with nature.
One animal that calls the forest home is the red squirrel. On this International Day of Forests, we’re here to dispel any myths you may have about the red squirrel and its home.
Myth 1: Red squirrels can only live in coniferous forests
Perhaps the most common myth is the belief that red squirrels can only live in coniferous, or pine, forests in the UK. It’s easy to see why – they have been seen in these areas in recent years.
However, these types of woodlands are at the edge of their habitat tolerance range. So why do we see them there?
Grey squirrels prefer to live in mixed and deciduous woodland where the food variety is more favourable. This competition pushes red squirrels to the edge of their habitat range, and people, therefore, assume they prefer conifers.
However, red squirrels can thrive in a variety of habitats. Before they began to decline in the UK, they were widespread in deciduous, mixed, and coniferous woodland. Take a look at continental Europe as proof.
Myth 2: UK red squirrels are not native
Many people believe red squirrels are not native to the UK and were imported from Scandinavia. We can understand why – the reality is quite confusing.
The UK red squirrel population dramatically declined due to mass hunting and habitat loss in the 18th Century. They nearly went extinct in the UK.
This led to populations being brought over from Scandinavia to reinforce the UK red squirrel population left.
However, the red squirrels found in both the UK and continental Europe are genetically the same species, so reinforcement from the continent does not make the red squirrels now in the UK “non-native”.
Myth 3: Red squirrels are always red
It’s easy to think the best way to tell the difference between a red and grey squirrel is the colour of their fur. However, coat colour is not a reliable indicator of the species.
Red squirrels do not always have a red coat. Red squirrels can develop a silver/grey coloured coat in winter, as you can see in the photograph above. Similarly, grey squirrels can often have very red fur.
The best way to tell the difference between a red and grey squirrel? A red squirrel is smaller than a grey squirrel, has ear tufts and a bushy tail. Plus, a grey squirrel has a white ‘halo’ on its tail.
1. Red squirrels can inhabit deciduous, mixed, and coniferous woodland.
2. Red squirrels are native to the UK.
3. Red squirrels can also appear grey and silver.
Sadly, the world has lost 420 million hectares of forest (an area bigger than India!), and deforestation continues. If this persists, it will not only jeopardize the red squirrel population, but many other wildlife species.
What can you do?
You can contribute to the sustainable use of forests by choosing wood products with labelling or certification confirming that they come from legal and sustainable sources.
If you are interested in helping us recover the UK red squirrel population, please take a look at what volunteering opportunities we offer here: https://reclaimingreds.co.uk/get-involved/become-a-volunteer/