Red squirrels make comeback on estate after near-extinction through deadly virus

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Red squirrels have made a remarkable comeback on an estate after nearly being wiped out by their grey cousins.

The population of the popular furry critters was reduced almost to zero in 2011 after deadly squirrel pox started to spread through Wallington Hall, Northumberland, following the arrival of grey squirrels.

But an initiative by the National Trust has seen the numbers bounce back to 170, with no greys left at all.

The organisation recruited Glen Graham, their first red squirrel ranger, to monitor the numbers and oversee the turnaround.

A Red Squirrel looks for food in Kielder Forest in Northumberland (Owen Humphreys/PA)
A Red Squirrel looks for food in Kielder Forest in Northumberland (Owen Humphreys/PA)

He said: "The constant presence of rangers, alongside the support of visitors and volunteers, is crucial to safeguarding red squirrel populations.

"Looking to the future, contraceptive methods and new technologies could provide long-term solutions, but in the meantime we need public buy in to protect one of Britain's best loved species."

Saturday marks the start of Red Squirrel Awareness Week, with only 15,000 of them left in England.

David Bullock, head of nature conservation at the National Trust, said: "Red squirrels are facing a constant battle and those National Trust sites where they can be still found are increasingly important.

"We are grateful to and rely on our dedicated rangers, the support of volunteers and partnerships with other environmental organisations to make sure the red squirrel has a future in the UK."