There isn’t any creature much cuter than a squirrel!
I saw my first red squirrels in Formby which is a wonderfully unexpected area of sand dunes, pine trees and sea very close to my childhood home in Liverpool. The story of their survival is the first wild life story that I really remember. Grey squirrels are an American import that has apparently driven out the native red squirrel from most of England.
However, as with most stories of alien invasion, it is more complex than it first appears. Apparently grey squirrels don’t compete for the red squirrel’s food, as the red squirrel is much more dependent on the seeds from pine trees, but greys can eat all manner of foods ( especially peanuts from bird feeders!). Unfortunately they carry a disease which is transmutable to red squirrels and this is the real reason why reds do not thrive in the presence of grey squirrels.
The first place I really watched red squirrels up close was in the central parks of Almaty in Kazakhstan. The length of the tufts on their ears made me laugh out loud, as they seemed improbably transgressively punk, leaping amongst the carefully managed trees.
The photos here are from just over the border in Germany, but red squirrels are at home here in France and I once saw a buzzard pluck one from a branch and fly away with the little helpless little bundle in our local woods.
Before you get too dewy eyed about red squirrels, it is thought that the fashion for red squirrel fur collars was responsible for introducing leprosy into Europe during the Middle Ages. The scourge of leprosy has been tracked down to squirrel furs imported from Scandinavia into Britain , but it may also have arisen in many other places before colonials exported it to the Americas and beyond.
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