Red squirrels mark anniversary with first litter

Feeding time for the red squirrels at Escot. Nature ranger Victoria Sissons feeds the squirrels. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shs 3018-39-12AW. To order your copy of this photograph, go to www.sidmouthherald.co.uk and click on myphotos24

Feeding time for the red squirrels at Escot. Nature ranger Victoria Sissons feeds the squirrels. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shs 3018-39-12AW. To order your copy of this photograph, go to www.sidmouthherald.co.uk and click on myphotos24

Archant

The free range red squirrels at Escot Park marked their first birthday in one of the UK’s only walk-through enclosures with two baby kits.

Hazel, the single female at the specially-designed open environment, but protected from American grey squirrels, had her first litter at the end of July.

Red squirrels are kept by a number of zoos in conventional cage enclosures and have bred previously, but Escot said the unique aspect of this breeding is the open topped natural environment with mixed woodland.

A spokesman for the park outside Ottery said: “This could provide an opportunity for the reds to avoid extinction, which is otherwise predicted within the next 20 to 30 years on mainland Britain.”

They said larger safe havens could be created until a solution to deadly squirrel pox virus, which greys carry but are immune to, is found.

He added: “As funds become available through donations and sponsorship, Escot will build a bespoke breeding facility to sustain the population here, and eventually provide squirrels for reintroduction programs elsewhere.”

The park is also co-organising a major national red squirrel conference at the University of Exeter in April next year.

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