Twenty red squirrels have been flown
over to Tresco on the Isles of Scilly to
boost a breeding experiment.
Five of the rare endangered native
mammals were introduced last year, but
only two survived.
The new colony of squirrels from the
British Wildlife Centre in Surrey, was
flown over by a helicopter from RNAS
Culdrose in Cornwall.
Mike Nelhams of Tresco Abbey Gardens
said the colony could start breeding as
early as next year.
"Tresco is an ideal place for these very
cute little animals," he told BBC News.
"We have a lovely woodland for them,
there are no natural predators and with
no grey squirrels, they are safe from
The native red squirrel population has
been decimated by squirrel pox
[parapoxvirus], which is carried by the
grey squirrels that were introduced in
the UK in the late 19th Century.
Grey squirrels have built up a natural
immunity to the virus, but it is fatal to
red squirrels, which are now extinct in
many parts of Great Britain.
According to the Forestry Commission
there are about 140,000 red squirrels
left in the wild, compared with more
than two million greys.
Mr Nelhams said the idea of introducing
red squirrels, mooted by Daily Telegraph
wildlife columnist Robin Page, has been
supported by Prince Charles and Tresco's
owner Robert Dorrien-Smith.
The Prince of Wales is the patron of the
Red Squirrel Survival Trust (RSST).
The new arrivals "hitched a ride" on a
Royal Navy search-and-rescue helicopter
during a routine training exercise.
"We have the heliport here and as it's
not unknown for the Culdrose
helicopters to touch down here. We held
off getting the squirrels until it coincided
with a training exercise to test
equipment," Mr Nelhams said.
The crew of the RNAS Culdrose helicopter
delivered the red squirrels during a training
The red squirrels will be released from
their cages on Friday and will be free to
roam the Abbey woodland.
However, Mr Nelhams said food and
water would be provided for them every
day until they could forage sufficiently
for themselves and no longer needed to
"The ones we have are quite sociable
little creatures and make their way back
most days for hazelnuts, fruit and
vegetables," he said.
"In terms of their natural diet, red
squirrels love pine cones and the
magnificent Monterey pines we have
here on Tresco means there's a huge
supply of cones."
The squirrels - believed to be an even mix
of males and females - are about a year
old and could begin breeding in the
Litters vary between one and six, but the
average is three.
Mr Nelham said it was "highly unlikely"
Tresco would become overrun by red
"It's very early days, but if the numbers
really grow we could probably catch
some - they're quite easy to catch - and
relocate them - perhaps even to
The Cornwall Red Squirrel Project is
currently culling grey squirrels ahead of
plans to reintroduce red squirrels in two
parts of the county - the Lizard and West