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Four red squirrel kittens born at Pensthorpe give hope to threatened species

Pensthorpe red squirrels

The red squirrel is the UK's only native squirrel species and was once a common sight in our woodlands, but for decades has been in decline. The population in England is thought to be as low as 15,000. That’s why Pensthorpe Natural Park is celebrating the arrival of four red squirrel kittens, injecting fresh hope into saving the species from extinction.

The kittens were born to Hartlaub and Harlequin, named after duck species, sometime around early August and their sex is currently unknown. As red squirrels are shy, it can take months for the kittens to make their first appearance, so the exact date the kittens were born is unknown! The latest arrivals will be named with the letter I to follow the studbook.

Pensthorpe Natural Park, working with the East Anglian Red Squirrel Group (EARSG), has been breeding red squirrels successfully since 1998. Many of Pensthorpe’s kittens have been released on the Isle of Anglesey as part of a managed release programme, bringing the population on the Island from 40 individuals to over 700 now living there.

Pensthorpe is also part of a recent success story, having donated a pair of reds, named Domino and Fizz, to Clocaenog Red Squirrel Trust in Denbighshire. Clocaenog Forest has seen its red squirrel population decline from 400 to less than 50 in the past 20 years. It has been reported that the pair have bred successfully, which is a major triumph for the EARSG.

Chrissie Kelley, head of species management at Pensthorpe Natural Park, said: “Red squirrels are full of personality and they definitely captivate our visitors, who love seeing them running around, eating nuts and fresh vegetables and trying to spot a bushy red tail! It is really important that visitors young and old interact with and are educated about these charming creatures and the risks threatening them so that we can protect them for future generations. We are all in love with our very cute new red kitten arrivals and are pleased about the success of the breeding pair at Clocaenog. We are all hopeful that this project will replicate the success of the Anglesey one.”

Tree felling and the introduction of grey squirrels over 150 years ago have been blamed for a drastic decline in the red squirrel population.

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

Pensthorpe Conservation Trust (PCT) is a charity dedicated to creating a centre of excellence in ecological restoration, promoting sustainable farming and researching, breeding and protecting threatened species.

The lakes and wetlands at Pensthorpe