Red Squirrel Spotting on the Isle of Wight
Playful and inquisitive, red squirrels are indigenous to the Isle of Wight and can be found in most woodland and forested areas. They are also an endangered species, and the Island is one of the only places in the country where you will see them. As the American grey squirrel population has become more prevalent throughout most of mainland Britain, it outcompetes the red squirrel for food and passes on diseases. The Solent has acted as an effective barrier to the introduction of the grey squirrel to the Island, and thus the red squirrel survives undisturbed.
About Red Squirrels
Red squirrels are able to live in a wide range of forest types, but they prefer conifer because they can forage more efficiently. These animals measure around 35 to 40cm from nose to tail, weighing only 350g.
Their colour can range from bright ginger, to red, through to dark brown and they can even be tinged with grey. In the winter, they are particularly noticeable with their big ear tufts. Squirrel nests, called dreys, can be spotted in tree forks or hollows and are constructed from twigs and lined with moss and hair.
Where To See Red Squirrels
Robin Hill Country Park is a good place to see red squirrels on the Island as they have large areas of ancient woodland that makes an ideal home for them to feed and shelter. Also with so many visitors wandering through every year the squirrels aren’t quite as shy as elsewhere.
Robin Hill works with ‘The Wight Squirrel Project’ to protect these creatures and promote their plight to all Island visitors. Every Friday during the season at 3.30pm they hold a Red Squirrel Safari, a free walk and talk by Helen Butler and Mike Evans from the project who will lead you around the woodland and hopefully guide you to a live sighting or two. (Entrance fees to the park apply).
Marked around the woods are ‘Red Squirrel Hot Spots’ that give you an indication of the best places in the park to see the squirrels. They’ve also installed a viewing hide and have squirrel cameras transmitting live footage from feeding stations back to the Tree House Woodland Centre.
Parkhurst Forest is another place to see red squirrels. The forest consists of both ancient woodland, dating to pre-1600, and plantation woodland. It is owned and managed by the Forestry Commission and is partly a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
The Hide resembles a log cabin and is built mostly from oak and Douglas fir, harvested from the forest and is free, open all year and accessible to pushchairs (wheelchair access may be possible for some users, but access is via gravel paths). Parkhurst Forest is open to the public and has a selection of well-maintained paths in addition to the Squirrel Safari and a large car park with picnic tables.
To find the Viewing Hide by car from Newport, take the Forest Road towards Yarmouth. After about one mile on Forest Road, look out for the turning into Parkhurst Forest and park in the car park. Then follow the signs around the Squirrel Safari via the Hide or pick up a route card from Gift to Nature’s online shop. By bus, the nearest stop is Standen Avenue, but for a more regular service go to St Mary’s Hospital then walk along Forest Road.
The Red Squirrel Trust
The Isle of Wight Red Squirrel Trust is a local charity composed of a group of dedicated people committed to the protection and survival of the native red squirrels, their habitat, and the species that share it with them. They also educate the general public and raise awareness about our native red squirrels by:
- Providing short talks
- Taking guided walks
- Directing you to a facility where you can see red squirrels
- Providing information packs
- Making educational films
See www.rsst.org.uk for more information and guided walks.