We’re nuts about red squirrels

Without intervention, the red squirrel in the wild could be extinct in Britain in just 20 years. That's what makes Pensthorpe Conservation Trust's co-ordination of the captive breeding programme in East Anglia so vital. Rachel Banham reports.

There are few words which amply describe how it feels to see a live red squirrel for the first time, but 'captivating' is one of them. Visit the red squirrel enclosure at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve, near Fakenham, and you'll soon find that you're not alone in these feelings.

Visitors regularly express delight at coming face-to-face with the charming creatures, and it is easy to be drawn into the joy, excitement and wonder that their presence creates.

Chrissie Kelley and David Stapleford have seen more red squirrels than most, yet they still hold a special magic for both of them.

Chrissie, who is head of species management for Pensthorpe Conservation Trust (PCT), said: 'They are just captivating. I'm constantly amazed by them. They're just fascinating to watch, leaping around and playing with each other.'

David, chairman of the East Anglian Red Squirrel Group and chief adviser to Pensthorpe, fell in love with red squirrels when one was included on the 'nature table' at his primary school.

He describes it as 'the most beautiful animal I had ever seen in my life' and from then on he looked for red squirrels – finally seeing his first in Thetford Forest in the early 1960s.

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Thanks to the hard work, dedication and commitment of those at Pensthorpe, as well as the efforts of the other members of the breeding programme across East Anglia, it's a magic that many more of us will hopefully experience.

For the full story of Pensthorpe's part in protecting and promoting red squirrels see the EDP Weekend supplement in tomorrow's EDP. And for a photo gallery of more red squirrel pictures and how you can order copies log on to www.edp24.co.uk after noon on Sunday.

For more information on the breeding programme visit www.pensthorpetrust.org.uk/red-squirrel