Not such a Scilly idea
Country Life UK|January 26, 2022
Beloved by The Prince of Wales, who shares his Scottish home with them, and thriving on Tresco and Arran–where they supposedly arrived in a laundry basket–red squirrels have a particular penchant for island life
Robin Page
MY wife, Lulu, and I took what is becoming a regular autumn-winter break towards the end of last year in the Isles of Scilly. The British Isles make up an area awash with fantastic places to visit, so why go back to the same one year after year? Well, many years ago (in 1984, to be precise), I wrote a book called The Wildlife of the Royal Estates and the Isles of Scilly were on my list of land and sea to visit. I was immediately hooked and have returned almost every year since. However, since 2013—and the arrival on Tresco of red squirrels—the pull has been even greater. What a scheme of sensible animal introduction and what a success story, popular with visitors, residents and the squirrels themselves.

The idea of ‘reds’ on Tresco—the second largest island in the archipelago—was first put to me by the late Humfrey Wakefield, a gifted potter, who lived on the island of St Mary’s. He was more than gifted and I still enjoy the odd cup of tea from one of his creations. Wakefield was adamant that Tresco was the place for red squirrels. Sometimes, as I spoke with him, flagons of a clear liquid would be brought to him from visiting French trawlermen, and vaguely similar flagons would be exchanged and travel in the opposite direction. What was the liquid-like? I would describe it as ‘quite interesting’ and it did me no lasting damage. Rumour had it that Wakefield had his own private homemade still at the bottom of his garden.

Anyway, he was also a good naturalist. |He was the man who discovered roseate terns nesting on Scilly for the first time and who described Tresco as being ‘perfect’ for a red-squirrel introduction: plenty of trees, wild food, and no grey squirrels to pass on the lethal squirrel pox—lethal to red squirrels, that is.

So Tresco, the ‘ideal’ location, was the place to start. Yes, the owner (the Duchy of Cornwall) was keen, as was the head of the Duchy (The Prince of Wales, or The Duke of Cornwall). In fact, it’s true to say that The Prince has been hooked on red squirrels, rather like Lulu and me, for some considerable time (He is the patron of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust). A few years ago, we were invited up to Birkhall in Aberdeenshire to see the ‘habituated’ squirrels (COUNTRY LIFE, November 14, 2018) inviting themselves into his house for a snack—amazing.

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