Two squirrels are reported to have died after an outbreak of the deadly squirrel pox near Appleby. 

The first case was reported to Jim Wilson at Rutter Falls Holiday Cottages on Friday (February 2).

Jim is very active in red squirrel conservation and is a volunteer squirrel ranger and supporter of the Penrith and District squirrel group (P&DRSG).

He was made aware of the infected animals by Diane, the housekeeper at the cottages.

The Westmorland Gazette: The usual feeding boxes at Rutter Falls have been left empty to prevent further spreadJim said: "We have had pox before, this is the third time in around 10 to eleven years. 

"Unfortunately, the identification is intrinsically visual and it starts around the eyes with very puss-filled sores. If the squirrel is still alive, it will eventually go blind and the disease will spread to their hands and anywhere where there isn't fur really.

"I waited a couple of days to be absolutely sure and then I saw them with my own eyes. 

"Sadly I have had to dispatch of two - not only because it is humane but also to stop them spreading to other reds."

Visible symptoms of squirrel pox virus include wet, discharging lesions or scabs around the eyes, mouth, feet and genitalia.

Squirrels generally become increasingly lethargic as the disease progresses before it becomes fatal. This was also another sign that Jim spotted as the reds he saw were much more slow moving.

The Westmorland Gazette: MAY CONTAIN NUTS: Grey squirrels on the menu after cullGrey squirrels are known carriers and are also immune to the disease.

Jim added: "Unfortunately, it only takes one grey squirrel to wipe out a family of reds. In our area, we have around six to eight regular wild red squirrels that we've identified but we never see more than four at a feeding box at a time.

"Since this outbreak we have still seen healthy red squirrels so it isn't a total wipeout, however it is a serious outbreak and I would urge everyone to be vigilant. 

"Red squirrels are creatures of habit so they will return to feeding boxes regularly and that's usually that's when cases are spotted. 

"I deliberately haven't filled the feeding boxes for the time being to prevent a further spread. I will in another two to three weeks and then will see which will come back. 

"I don't like setting traps but I have done to capture greys in the mean time.

"The public can help by being vigilant and reporting any sightings of sick squirrels to their local ranger.

"I am usually out hunting grey squirrels every day however the public can also help by donating to volunteer groups such as Penrith & District Red Squirrel Group."

Anyone who thinks they may have spotted a potentially sick red squirrel is advised to visit the Red Squirrels Northern England website.