Red Squirrel Project

Credit - John Fisher

Lancashire's small population of red squirrels is bouncing back from the devastating impact of squirrel pox. The reds are expanding from their stronghold in the woods on the Sefton Coast. Our squirrel officers and dedicated volunteers are playing a crucial role in this success story...

The redoubtable reds have staged a spirited comeback in the North West since 2008, at which point the outlook was very bleak. The squirrel pox virus wiped out approximately 80% of red squirrels in the North Merseyside and West Lancashire Stronghold.

This virus is carried by grey squirrels which are immune to it, but it is fatal to red squirrels. Thanks to the perseverance and dedication of our volunteers and project officers, the population recovered quickly and has now increased to just over 80% of the pre-pox numbers.

We hope that red squirrels will once again become a common sight throughout North Merseyside, West Lancashire and beyond. With the help of our dedicated volunteers we have come some way towards achieving this but more work is still needed. Image (left) by Andy Barton.

What to do if you see a red or grey squirrel...

Please report sightings of red or grey squirrels to us by calling 07590 745 862 or e-mailing

Rachel Miller, Red Squirrel Project Officer

If you see a grey squirrel, please call us immediately on 07590 745 862 so we can respond as soon as possible.

You can also help the great red squirrel comeback by joining your local branch of Red Alert North West. The work varies from monitoring the squirrel populations to engaging with the community at local events, to helping with aspects of grey control. There are local group meetings every season so if you are interested in joining in and learning more, please contact us.

If you are lucky enough to have red squirrels visiting your garden, please clean any feeders and water bowls regularly. Sterilising feeders used by reds and greys will help to minimise the risk of squirrel pox and any other diseases spreading. Also make sure you provide a variety of foods such as monkey nuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, apple, carrot and fresh water.

Remember, feeding should only be supplementary. To ensure red squirrels still forage naturally, only provide food every few days.

What we are doing to help...

Protecting the red squirrel population requires constant effort. Through grey squirrel control we aim to prevent the incursion of grey squirrels into the red squirrel reserve areas of Formby and Ainsdale, as well as create suitable ‘grey free’ habitat for red squirrels to re-colonise. We monitor the impact of this control through our bi-annual monitoring programme. This is carried out every Spring and Autumn and in combination with sightings received from members of the public, enables us to track changes in the abundance and distribution of red and grey squirrel populations.

Recently we have had sightings recorded in Knowsley, Rainford, Bickerstaffe, Skelmersdale and at our nature reserve at Mere Sands Wood near Rufford.

You can read the Spring 2016 monitoring report here.

You can view the Autumn 2015 monitoring report here.

You can see the full Spring 2015 monitoring report here.

Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE), one of our partners, is a national project establishing similar strongholds throughout the North of England. Find out more about the project here.

Beating the pox

The Natural Environmental Research Council and the National Trust funded a PhD project at the University of Liverpool, headed by vet Tim Dale that began in 2010. Work included research into the infection and immune status of the surviving red squirrel population in the Merseyside area, aiming to provide invaluable information into how the pox is transmitted and help to develop conservation strategies for red squirrels throughout the British Isles. The project concluded in 2013 and details of the results will be available soon.

Image (left) - A red squirrel with pox

Project Contact Details

Project Officer - Rachel Miller
Tel - 07590 745 862
Email -

Project Funder

This project is funded by the Sita Trust.

Partners include Red Squirrels Northern England; Red Squirrel Survival Trust; National Trust; Natural England; Sefton Council; Sefton Coast Partnership; Forestry Commission and the University of Liverpool.