THE return of red squirrels to Cumbria could be aided by a new community project.

The struggling species have been spotted in the Rusland Valley, and people are being encouraged to offer food, record sightings and set up traps for greys.


It is hope that this community action will help boost the numbers of red in the area, which was decimated in the 1990s but the invasion of the disease-carrying greys.

Bob Cartwright, from the Westmorland Red Squirrels project, said: "The reality is there should be a much larger number of red squirrels in the area than there is, but the greys have been invading for the past two decades.

"We need to rebalance this. With local commitment the reds can recover to their original numbers, but we also need commitment to a programme of controlling the greys.

"We are encouraging members of the local community to be our eyes and ears on the ground."

The project comes as part of the Rusland Horizons Project, which has secured Heritage Lottery funding. It is through this funding that that the Red Squirrel Recovery Project was able to secure feeders and cameras to install to help monitor the red squirrel numbers.

People can volunteer to have these cameras and feeders installed on their land, which they will then monitor and report any sightings to the project.

The area which is being focused on stretches from Grizedale Forest down to Newby Bridge, and from Windermere across to Coniston water.

Mr Cartwright said: "As part of our plan over the next three years we expect to have five of the major landowners actively involved, as well as at least 20 regular volunteers.

"We are very confident we will achieve this. We already have people saying they are happy to host cameras and feeders."

The red squirrel, native to Britain, is now classified as "near threatened" due to the introduction of the American grey squirrel, which carries a virus fatal to reds.

The reds are estimated to number only 140,000 in Britain, while there are more than 2.5 million greys.

Mr Cartwright added: "What has been very clear is how much local people value red squirrels.

"They are seen very much as part of the area. Nobody would be more delighted than the local people to see the reds back. They are a big part of Cumbria."