Once upon a time, two naïve, young Americans resided in an isolated garden amidst thousands of Britons. For years, they cohabited peacefully, frolicking through the flowers, making the most of available resources, scavenging what they could and protecting themselves from the inclimate weather with drab, grey (yet functional) attire.
They remained blissfully unaware of their neighbouring British brethren, who, steeped in age-old tradition, upheld their distinctive, refined set of food and fashion tastes…
Then, one day, some idiot let those Americans loose.
The Yankees invade.
The Grey Squirrels have taken over— ‘those big, ugly rats’, as some of my British friends call them, are destroying the native population of beloved, beautiful Red Squirrels.
Since released into the wild near Cheshire, England over 200 years ago, the UK population of North American Grey Squirrels has multiplied, displacing the native Reds at an exponential rate. It has been estimated the Greys now outnumber the Reds 20 to 1 and have almost completely wiped out the Red contingency of southern England.
They eat more things. They adapt to urban environments, and they carry diseases.
The local response? Obviously, to fight back.
I’ve actually read that butchers, restaurant owners, political figures (and even TV personalities?) have, in recent years, encouraged the consumption of Grey Squirrel meat—some have even dubbed the practice ‘ethical’ game hunting; others have created special squirrel meat dishes, comparing them to gourmet delicacies.
A friend of mine—a native of Oxford, UK—has described grey squirrels as (and I quote), ‘slightly evil…but tasty!’
And of course, loads of Red Squirrel conservation groups have formed across Britain, including ‘Red Alert’ and ‘UKRSG’ (UK Red Squirrel Group), which are dedicated to preserving, defending (And worshipping?) the Reds.
Spot ‘em while you can.
I’ve personally never seen a real, live Red Squirrel, but now I really want to. So I did some research on some great weekend getaways within the UK to places that are supposed to have lots of them:
1. The Lake District:
“This is a Tale about a tail – a tail that belonged to a little red squirrel, and his name was Nutkin…”
You will not want to miss out on the former homeland of writer and conservationist Beatrix Potter, author of The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin (and, perhaps more famously, The Tale of Peter Rabbit). Potter, among other writers and poets, was doubtlessly inspired by the breathtaking scenery of the Lake District region: the area contains the highest mountain peak in England – Scafell Peak – and has been described as one of the “most beautiful corner in England.”
Embark on a daytrip to the Lake District National Park area, through which you will be taken to the charming lakeside village of Grasmere, former home of William Wordsworth. After soaking in the awe-inspiring panoramic landscapes—and hopefully spotting a few cuddly, russet-coloured creatures—you can enjoy an afternoon tea at the “World of Beatrix Potter” Attraction.
For a more in-depth experience, you might want to consider the Scenic Lake District Overnight Stay.
2. The Scottish Highlands
Conservationists in the Scottish Highland region have long taken pride in their Grey-free, ‘safe zone’ for Red Squirrels. That is, up until just this past April, when the very first non-native Grey Squirrel of the region was spotted near Inverness.
Journey to the most gorgeous region of Scotland (and arguably, in the UK!) to experience the rugged wilderness that protects some of the country’s most beloved flora and fauna.
On the Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness Tour (which departs from Edinburgh – but there is also a similar tour that leaves from Glasgow), you will—if you manage to dodge the lake monsters—fall in love with the diverse wildlife of Glencoe, including Golden Eagles, Scotch Argus Butterflies, majestic Red Deer and, of course, our friend the Red Squirrel!
If you are looking for a peaceful, extended retreat from the humdrum of your daily 9-5, you could also look into the 6 day, 5 night Scottish Highland Getaway.
…in the natural beauty of the British countryside, while honouring one of the UK’s most beloved, endangered creatures.
Happy squirrel spotting!