A group of squirrels is called a scurry.
There are technically wild populations from 3 species of the squirrel family living in the UK. The ‘native’ Red Squirrel (Sciurus Vulgaris), The Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus Carolinensis), and the more recent arrival,the Siberian Chipmunk (Eutamias Sibiricus) which is thought to have arrived through the channel tunnel and now has a wild population of approximately 1,000 in the east of the country.
The Red Squirrel is no longer a common sight in the West country, due to loss of habitat, they prefer coniferous forest, of which we have very few now, their numbers also never fully recovered from extensive hunting by humans in past centuries. Their numbers fell so low that red squirrels where re-introduced from other parts of Europe, where they are still common, meaning that our ‘native’ reds are not as native as most people think! Luckily they do still have strong populations in the north, where suitable habitats still exist.
In our part of the world, you are more likely to spot one of the reds cousins, introduced from north America over 100 years ago, our naturalised grey squirrel.
It is unfortunate that grey squirrels have been given a bad reputation in the UK and that they have been wrongly blamed for the demise of the red squirrel. People are killing off the red squirrel, by cutting down their trees and, in the past, hunting red squirrels to near extinction. I find it thought provoking how in North America, where there is still an abundance of forest, grey squirrels live along side 4 other species of squirrel, including the American Red squirrel, that although is not related to the European red, is incredibly similar, in size, diet, and their preference to live in mixed or coniferous woodland. The American red is doing well living alongside the Eastern grey squirrel.
Grey Squirrels are also blamed for costing forestry £10 million per year (this is actually a small figure compared to the reported £590 million GVA by UK forestry in 2016 and the £1.52 billion reported by the primary wood processings industries in the same year) Its worth noting that all tree squirrels, Red or grey, will occasionally strip bark, also that all tree squirrels have a symbiotic relationship with trees, as many of the nuts and seeds that they bury will germinate. Problems only occur when trees are seen as a 'crop', and in the UK any animals that touch crops are often seen as pests and eradicated. It is interesting how the £10m cost to forestry also includes all the money spent on trapping and killing grey squirrels, so technicality they are being blamed for the cost of their own destruction.
The grey squirrel is a lovely sight in our countryside and gardens, loved by most, especially children and are amongst the smartest animals on the planet, showing a high level of intelligence and problem solving, ranking them in the top few percent for animal intelligence, along with animals such as crows and primates.
Grey Squirrels haven't so much adapted to our ever changing environment, its more that they already have the tools to survive in a changed world. Their preference to live in deciduous woods, of which we still have a few, or the ability to survive in a small patch of trees, the fact that they are less arboreal than some of their cousins, ie spend more time on the ground, so will walk between trees and an adaptable diet make them one of the few species living in the UK with the potential to do well living along side us. They are still, however, fragile animals, with juvenile mortality being very high, often due to starvation so if you’re lucky enough to have them visit your garden, don’t hate them for raiding your bird feeders, they are just trying to survive, consider feeding them too, especially during the winter and spring months, when they need it the most. Ark Wildlife carry a good range of nuts and ready mixed squirrel food.
Typically, an adult squirrel will not let you near to it, let alone pick it up, so identifying signs of an injured adult squirrel are quite easy. Young Squirrels known as Kits occasionally fall from dreys especially in high winds, or when trees and branches are cut down, and to find them ‘cuddling’ on the ground isn’t cute, they are actually in real danger. If you come across a baby squirrel/s on the ground, step back first to see if the mother returns to pick them up. If not then pick them up and warm them up, and contact a squirrel friendly wildlife centre. Do not attempt to feed a cold baby squirrel.
*Unfortunately, due to misguided policy, not all wildlife centres are squirrel friendly and if you take a squirrel to one that is not, and that includes the UKs best known wildlife charity, they are very likely to euthanize the animal, healthy or not, so please check that anyone you contact is squirrel friendly.*