RURAL communities and landowners are being urged to look out for red squirrels following several recent sightings of the rare mammal in the region.
Amateur photographer Martin Rogers, who lives at Middleton-in-Teesdale, in County Durham, snapped a red squirrel on a peanut feeder in his garden yesterday (Tuesday), two weeks after another one of the elusive creatures was spotted in a garden at nearby Cotherstone.
There have also been reports of sightings in Eggleston and elsewhere in Middleton-in-Teesdale over the last three months.
Mr Rogers said: "When I looked up and saw a red squirrel on the peanuts I thought I was imagining it; ten minutes earlier there was a grey one on the same feeder. I was really excited to see him, and I hope he’s a good omen."
The red squirrel lived in most UK counties 100 years ago but their population declined rapidly after the grey squirrel arrived in the country from North America.
As the grey species became established nationwide, they started to spread a fatal disease amongst the reds known as squirrelpox, to which the red species had no immunity, and so they started dying out.
Nick Mason, project manager at Red Squirrels Northern England, said: “The greys were also a bit more successful in exploiting a wider range of food stuffs and habitats than the native red squirrels, so the two things worked together.
“Where greys arrived, the reds disappeared.”
Although there are known populations of red squirrels living near the River Wear in Killhope and Burnhope, in County Durham, there has been no record of reds breeding in Teesdale for more than ten years.
Mr Mason described the sightings in Teesdale as “very intriguing”.
He said: “They could have dispersed down the River Wear from Killhope or come east from Brough and Stainmore, in Cumbria.
“The Cumbrian population of reds look to be breeding really well at the moment.
“That’s often when the young disperse some distances.
“We would love to hear from people in Teesdale and elsewhere who see red squirrels.
“There is clearly a lot of interest in them at community level.
“The more we know about where they are, the more we might be able to encourage them to start to breed again, which would be fantastic.
“The amount of effort going on to try and conserve them might just be working.”
To report sightings of red squirrels, visit rsne.org.uk or follow the organisation on Twitter and Facebook.