Boost for red squirrels in Norfolk as breeding programme is approved
A glimpse of a red squirrel has become a rare treat these days.
But this threatened English icon has been given a boost in Norfolk as a breeding programme has been given the go ahead on a farm near Fakenham.
Broadland District Council has granted planning permission for the Countryside Restoration Trust to build two red squirrel breeding enclosures at its small holding of Mayfields at Themelthorpe.
Red squirrel numbers have decreased drastically in Britain and Ireland in recent years due to the introduction of the eastern grey squirrel from North America.
The grey squirrels carry a pox virus which is harmless to them but fatal to the reds.
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The CRT's chairman Robin Page said: 'We are extremely excited. Red squirrels need all the help they can get and we hope to have a successful breeding population at Mayfields.
'We will be working in close contact with other captive breeding projects in Norfolk, at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve, and the project run by that red squirrel hero, David Stapleford.
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'We hope that any young reared will go for release programmes in various parts of Britain.
'If squirrel pox – spread by grey squirrels - can be prevented with a vaccine, or grey squirrels can be adequately controlled, then it is our long term hope that wild, free-ranging red squirrels can again be part of East Anglia's wildlife.'
Mr Page said the CRT initially planned to reintroduce the red squirrels into places like Mersea Island and Anglesey where there are red squirrel conservation projects under way but hoped some of the squirrels bred in Themelthorpe would eventually end up in Thetford Forest.
Sarah Jenkins, the CRT's tenant at Mayfield says: 'This is fantastic news. The project and the arrival of red squirrels cannot come fast enough for me.
'It is going to be a challenge, but an exciting one and very worthwhile. We must do all we can to save the red squirrel from British extinction'.
Mr Page estimates that there are currently around 120,000 red squirrels in Britain and says that this number is rapidly falling, compared to about three million grey squirrels whose numbers are rising.
He believes red squirrels could become extinct everywhere apart from the Highlands in less than 25 years unless more work is done to save them.