Rare red squirrels born at Pensthorpe, near Fakenham

A red squirrel and her kits at Pensthorpe. Picture: Pensthorpe Natural Park/Lin Pritt

A red squirrel and her kits at Pensthorpe. Picture: Pensthorpe Natural Park/Lin Pritt - Credit: Archant

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, these red squirrel kittens which have emerged into the sunshine at a north Norfolk wildlife haven are injecting fresh hope into the campaign to save the species from extinction.

The latest generation of endangered reds to be born at Pensthorpe, near Fakenham, are part of the East Anglian Red Squirrel Group breeding programme.

They are descended from the reserve's 'supermum' Tortoiseshell, who lived for nine years and give birth to 50 kittens. Many have been resettled all over the United Kingdom as part of release and captive breeding projects aimed at hgalting the alarming decline of Britain's only native species of squirrel.

Many of her offspring were sent to Anglesey as part of a successful programme to repopulate the Welsh island.

One of nature's most delightful and engaging creatures, red squirrels were once a common sight in conifer forests across the country.

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Tree felling and the introduction of grey squirrels 150 years ago, have been blamed for a drastic decline in the population. Grey squirrels now outnumber reds by 20-1.

While a few pockets of woodland still support small communities of red squirrels in England and Wales, the last stronghold of the species is Scotland.

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Chrissie Kelley, head of species management at the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, said: 'Red squirrels only survive in a handful of locations in the UK. We are proud that Pensthorpe is one of those places. We have had pairs breeding successfully here since 1998.'

Pensthorpe's breeding pairs of red squirrels occupy three purpose-made enclosures, built around trees and linked by overhead runs.

'We think it is important that visitors have the opportunity to see these beautiful little creatures and, at the same time, learn about the plight of the red squirrel and the attempts to save it in Britain,' said Ms Kelley.

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