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Welsh move for Norfolk squirrels
Red Squirrel (Photo: Nigel Housden)
Eight more red squirrels from Norfolk are being sent to Anglesey Island

Two red squirrels raised at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve are making the trip to Anglesey Island, Wales, to build a new home in the wild on 8 October, 2009.

The move comes as part of Red Squirrel Week, which highlights the nosedive in the UK's red squirrel population.

"It is very satisfying to be releasing two of our squirrels back into the wild," said Deb Jordan, co-owner of Pensthorpe Nature Reserve.

Two kittens were previously sent from Norfolk to Wales on 13 December, 2008.

The two squirrels being sent this year are part of eight kittens born at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve, near Fakenham, during 2009.

The pair will be released into the wild with six other young squirrels bred by members of the East Anglian Red Squirrel Group.

The two Pensthorpe kittens will join two from Easton College, Norwich, two from Whitwell Hall, Reepham, and one each from Kelling Heath Holiday Park, Holt, and Pettitts Animal Adventure Park in Reedham.

Red squirrel at Pensthorpe (Photo: Annie Kerridge)
Pensthorpe is part of the East Anglian Red Squirrels breeding programme

"Our work this year with these fascinating creatures has been phenomenally successful and it has been wonderful to watch them grow into healthy adults," said Deb.

"Now it's time for them to return to their natural wild state, which is the whole purpose of our breeding programme," she added.

The release locations in Anglesey are secret and are known to have zero population of grey squirrels, of which the breed carry the virus that is fatal to the reds.

Breeding program

The Pensthorpe Conservation Trust has been a member of the East Anglian Red Squirrel breeding program for a number of years.

It works with other organisations within the region to breed and eventually release red squirrels at designated sites.

Pensthorpe's two purpose-built red squirrel enclosures, which were opened alongside an original structure in April 2009, currently house 17 squirrels.

The reserve's red squirrels gave birth to a litter of five females in 2008 and four females and four males in two separate litters during 2009.

"It has been a very good breeding year with sufficient mature young kittens from spring litters to cover the release programme," said David Stapleford from the East Anglian Red Squirrel breeding programme.

"Breeding success can be variable due to weather conditions and the pairing of adult squirrels.

"The pairing of the squirrels at Pensthorpe proved a great match - in the last 18 months, 13 young have been born.

"Good food and a good environment are of course essential for contentment and breeding."

2008

The last two red kittens to be sent to Anglesey Island travelled on Saturday, 13 December, 2008, to get the species numbers back up. They were the children of two mating reds from Pensthorpe earlier in that year.

RED SQUIRREL FACTS
Red squirrels live up to seven years
A red squirrels tail can measure up to 20cm
Their coat is reddish-brown in summer, but appears chocolate brown with grey in the winter

The travelling kittens had been micro-chipped, wormed and checked over before the trip and they have been followed and monitored in their new home.

Prior to their move, the Pensthorpe team were very excited about the cross-country venture.

"We want to show people what fantastic creatures they are," said Chrissie Kelly, a warden at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve.

"There have been various names for the two of them - Bill and Deb [named after Bill and Deb Jordan who own Pensthorpe] and also Romeo and Juliet.

"They are a very young couple and we were really surprised when she had five kittens, which was fantastic for her first year," she added.

Three other kittens from the 2008 litter had been moved to Banham Zoo in Norfolk, which is also part of the East Anglian Red Squirrel breeding program.

"When the squirrels reach about 15 or 16 weeks old, the parents get a bit fed up with them and want them out of their territory. In the wild they would move to another part of the wood," said Chrissie.

Wiping out

Pensthorpe's Chrissie Kely
Chrissie helps to look after the red squirrels at Pensthorpe

"Red squirrels are indigenous in Britain and the ones we see in our gardens (grey) are American," said Chrissie.

"Unfortunately, these squirrels are wiping out the reds in Britain and they are virtually gone apart from a few pockets in the Isle of Wight and Scotland.

"It's mainly down to the pox virus that the greys' carry. They are resistant to the virus, but unfortunately the reds are not. If they catch it they get very poorly and die," she added.

The Moredun Research Institute near Edinburgh found the virus after taking blood samples from grey squirrels.

Grey squirrels are seldom harmed by the virus, but red squirrels have no immunity.

Those that catch the virus will suffer skin ulcers, lesions and scabs, with swelling and discharge around the eyes, mouth, feet and genitals. They usually die within 15 days.




SEE ALSO
Deb Jordan on Springwatch 2009
22 May 09 |  Nature & Outdoors
In pictures: Wild About the Wensum
16 May 09 |  Nature & Outdoors
Springwatch reveals new season
23 Apr 09 |  Nature & Outdoors
Pensthorpe: Edward Bramham-Jones
27 Feb 09 |  Nature & Outdoors
Battle on to save red squirrels
10 Feb 09 |  Scotland
Black squirrels set to dominate
20 Jan 09 |  England
Alert over red squirrel numbers
19 Dec 08 |  North East/N Isles

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