Wednesday, 12 October 2016 00:00

Moving On- Pensthorpe to the Welsh Valleys

Written by  The All Things Norfolk Team
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Moving On- Pensthorpe to the Welsh Valleys

Moving home lock, stock and nut-barrel to the other side of the country can be a logistical nightmare. Especially when your family has earned a reputation for being compulsive hoarders.

It’s the time of year when spring-born squirrel kittens like Fire and Flame, born at Pensthorpe Natural Park earlier this year, move out to find new territories to colonise.

Over the next few days a little group of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young adventurers, raised at Pensthorpe and two other North Norfolk wildlife havens, will be given a helping hand to find that dream location.

Kittens bred by members of the East Anglian Red Squirrel Group (EARSG) at Pensthorpe, Weybourne and Themelthorpe, have been selected for a pioneering task force which it is hoped will establish a new wild colony in Wales.

Norfolk’s on-the-move kittens have key roles in an ambitious project to reverse a devastating 100-year decline in the UK’s red squirrel population – a catastrophic collapse that threatens their survival.

A resettlement team, led by EARSG co-ordinator Chrissie Kelley, Head of Species Management at Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, is carefully planning the move to ensure it is as stress-free as possible.

Over the next few days 10 North Norfolk-bred kittens will be transported in specially-made squirrel boxes to the Ogwen Valley, near Bangor, a mainland area identified as a suitable for establishing a new colony of the engaging creatures. Three others are destined for the breeding programme at the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey.

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“This is huge for us. It’s the best possible outcome for a captive breeding programme.” said Ms Kelley. “We will also be welcoming three males from the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey to Pensthorpe so we can get as much variation into the blood lines as possible.

“The Ogwen Valley release is an extension of a hugely successful programme on the Isle of Anglesey which has seen the red squirrel population grow from 40 to more than 700. We have been an integral part of that project,” she said.

“Our colleagues there know we breed good squirrels and ours will be joined by breeding stock from other places around the country to ensure the widest genetic mix as possible."

The EARSG, formed in the early 1990s, has release and captive breeding programmes dedicated to re-establishing viable populations of red squirrels – Britain’s only native squirrel species – around the country.

Over the past 20 years, scores of kittens bred at Pensthorpe and EARSG partner projects have been resettled all over the United Kingdom.

“Red squirrels only survive in a handful of locations in the UK,” said Ms Kelley. “We are proud that Pensthorpe is one of those refuges. We have had pairs breeding successfully here since 1996.”

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Several squirrels sent to Anglesey from Pensthorpe over recent years are the offspring of Tortoiseshell, a prolific wondermum of the animal kingdom who gave birth to 50 kittens during her nine-year lifetime.

Although Tortoiseshell died earlier this year, her maternal legacy lives on with five of her great-grandkittens, including Fire and Flame, among those about to embark on the journey of their lifetime.

One of nature’s most delightful and engaging creatures, red squirrels were once a common sight in conifer forests across the country. Tree felling, and the introduction of grey squirrels 150 years ago, have been blamed for a drastic decline in the population. Grey squirrels now outnumber reds by 20-1.

While a few pockets of woodland still support small communities of red squirrels in England and Wales, the last stronghold of the species is Scotland. But as a grey squirrel wave sweeps northwards, it carries with it a disease which is deadly to their red cousins – and some conservationists predict the species could be wiped out in a generation. 

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Last modified on Wednesday, 02 January 2019 19:46

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