December 2014: Formby Reds
As a child i came to the Pine Forests at Formby and watched with amazement the Red Squirrels that live their, roll forward some 20+ years and i went back and nothing, absolutely nothing, all gone other then a very distant view of just 2 high in the trees.
As many know, the Red Squirrel is Native to the UK, the Grey on the other hand is not (native to North America) and were first released in the UK by the Victorians in 1876 in Henbury Park, Cheshire. It’s not clear why they were introduced and the Victorians had no idea of the risks of introducing non-native species. Perhaps they were just a decorative and interesting “exotic” in the park; part of the fashion for collecting that the Victorians enjoyed so much. There were further introductions around the country and it wasn’t long before it became clear that they had taken to their new home with a population boom.
Although it is believed that the Red Squirrel was already in a demise, the Grey Squirrel carries Squirrel pox which has decimated the Red population, habitat loss is also a contributor to the decline.
The story for Formby is a success story, however as you will read below, population took a huge demise in 2008 and its is for that reason that when i returned i saw only a distant glimpse.
In September 2005 the woodlands at Formby became part of a National Red Squirrel Refuge and Buffer Zone, along with the rest of the Sefton Coast Woodlands. Woodland management plays a vital part in the conservation of the red squirrel and the Sefton Coast Woodland Management Plan ensures all woodland owners in the area work with this in mind.
In 2008 the population was decimated by squirrel pox and approximately 80 percent of the squirrels were lost leaving as few as 20. Since then there has been a steady recovery with numbers currently around 250.
In 2011, six feeding stations were installed around Squirrel Walk. Designed so grey squirrels and larger birds can’t fit through the mesh, the feeders are filled by rangers every morning and disinfected regularly.
I recently returned to the Pine Woods and was astonished, Red Squirrels everywhere, all busy stocking up their larders ready for the winter time ahead. A very inquisitive little animal, a back turned on one will see another approach, happy to look down the lens and catch a glimpse of themselves in the reflection. As the winter approaches, their coast starts to change and they regain the little tufts on their ears.
It was a magical day, taking me back to my childhood and a place i will return to with fond memories. A place where no hide is necessary, no organised perches set up for the perfect background, a simple element is required to photograph them, patience, sit down and wait. You will often hear them before you see them, scattering leaves as they rush around but with patience and sitting quietly images are very much achievable by any nature lover.