Red squirrels are the star attractions of a new trail being launched in the Yorkshire Dales National Park next month (October).
From Monday (October 6), experienced walkers will have the chance to enjoy a 10-mile there-and-back hike to a squirrel view point set up in woodland in Snaizeholme, near Hawes, in the north of the National Park.
There they will be able to watch England’s native red squirrels in a special viewing area created by landowner Hugh Kemp.
We believe that, to get people’s support for the red squirrels and to make them aware of just how much protection they need, we need to give people the chance to see them in their natural habitat
Ian Court - Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority
The trail to the wood in Snaizeholme has been devised by Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) staff in co-operation with Mr Kemp, who has managed the woodland for many years.
Red squirrels are at threat from grey squirrels that were originally introduced into England from North America in the late 1880s, and are now widespread.
Although greys will out-compete red squirrels in mixed and broadleaf woodlands, the main threat comes from the Squirrelpox virus they can carry. They are immune to this virus but it is fatal to the reds.
The viewpoint is at the heart of the Widdale Red Squirrel Reserve, one of 16 established across in the north of England in 2005.
Ian Court, the YDNPA’s Wildlife Conservation Officer, said: “It’s very difficult to estimate how many red squirrels there are in the Snaizeholme reserve but they appear to be thriving there, thanks in large part to the enthusiasm and dedication of Hugh Kemp,” he said.
“One of the objectives of the reserves – as well as conserving red squirrels – is to try to make them available to the public.
“We believe that, to get people’s support for the red squirrels and to make them aware of just how much protection they need, we need to give people the chance to see them in their natural habitat.
“We are very grateful to Save our Squirrels, the Wensleydale branch of the Campaign to Protect of Rural England and the Forestry Commission who have contributed towards the cost of the work.”
Matt Neale, the YDNPA’s Area Ranger for Upper Wensleydale, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for walkers to see get to see one of the most threatened species in the National Park. We hope the route will also be used by walkers on the nearby Pennine Way who may want to make a detour to see the red squirrels.”
Mr Kemp said: “We are really proud that the red squirrels are doing so well in our woodland and we wanted to share their success with the public by giving people a chance to see these wonderful creatures in their natural habitat.”
The Authority has produced an audio trail that can be downloaded onto MP3 players and provides walkers with their own personal guided tour of the route, enabling them to learn more about the features around them as they walk. It is intended to be used in conjunction with a leaflet containing details of the walk and a map of the route. All three can be downloaded from the YDNPA website www.yorkshiredales.org.uk.
The trail – which should only be undertaken by experienced walkers with full outdoor clothing and map reading skills – starts and finishes at the YDNPA-owned Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes and crosses open access land with undefined footpaths.
Authority staff will be leading free guided walks to the viewing site on Tuesday 7 October and Saturday 11 October from the Museum, starting at 10am and arriving back at about 5pm. There are 15 places available on each day and bookings can be made at the Museum on 01969 666210. Walkers will need to bring their own food and drink. No dogs are allowed.
There will also be a free talk on red squirrel conservation on Wednesday 8 October at the Museum between 12.30pm and 1.30pm. Advance booking is not necessary.