This autumn, visitors to Brownsea Island will be taking part in an unusual squirrel quest. One toy squirrel will be hidden each day during half term, and the lucky person who finds one can take it home.
There are also real red squirrel walks, taking place daily from Monday 29 September to Friday 24 October at 11.30am and 2pm, as well as special walks for children every day during half term.
“We wanted to continue the adventure that was started last year and carry on the fun,” said Claire Dixon, Visitor Services and Enterprises Manager on Brownsea Island.
“Our squirrels are always particularly active at this time of year and more easily spotted. We thought it might be fun to let a few toys ones be equally active and make a break for freedom across the island.”
The island’s red squirrels are one of the few colonies left in England – the isolation on the island having protected them from the squirrel pox brought by their grey cousins, which have removed the red squirrels from most of the rest of England.
The National Trust is working to ensure the squirrel’s long term survival, including removing wild rhododendron to allow the natural re-growth of heath and pine trees – ensuring there will be a food supply into the future. Thinning some of the pine trees allows them to grow more pine cones containing the nuts the squirrels eat – as well as giving room for the trees to naturally regenerate.
Chris Thain, Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Reserve Manager on Brownsea Island said, “One of the most magical things about Brownsea Island is that visitors can get up close to wildlife all year round. As summer turns to autumn we’ve seen an increase in the amount of squirrels foraging for food, so this is the perfect time to visit the island for a wildlife experience you won’t forget.”
At 500 acres, the island is large enough to sustain a thriving population of red squirrels, and unusual in not having any natural predators – encouraging them down to the ground to feed where they can be more easily seen. It’s estimated by conservationists that the island population is doing so well that it is currently at about the maximum the island can sustain.
“This is a good time to see them when they are busy gathering food for winter which is why we have our squirrel walks on the island. You are almost guaranteed to see one of them at this time of year when they are active and busy collecting food for the winter,” continued Claire Dixon.