If you go down to the woods today...

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RED squirrels have been spotted in a local woodland.

The North West population of the elusive rodents had been thought to be at a critical level following an outbreak of squirrel pox in 2008.

But they have recently been spotted in a small, privately-owned pine wood near Billinge. The Reporter has been asked not to identify the exact name of the woodland though, for the sake of the squirrels’ privacy!

Red squirrels can also famously be spotted by eagle-eyed observers in the pine woods at the Ainsdale National Nature Reserve in Formby.

Despite a nose dive in the red squirrel population four years ago, the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and Merseyside say numbers are now back to 84 per cent of the population in 2002.

Conservation officer Fiona Whitfield said the discovery was a major boost to the local wildlife population and would generate greater interest.

He added: “This represents the third highest figure since monitoring began and is roughly the same as the annual average prior to the squirrel pox outbreak of 2008.

“These results reinforce the conclusion drawn over the past couple of years that the red squirrel population in the coastal pinewoods is continuing to recover.”

Nationally, Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE) has begun the enormous job of mapping red squirrel and grey squirrel presence across the whole of the North of England.

This spring, staff and volunteers spent more than 1,200 hours recording squirrel sightings in 270 different woodlands. It is the first time that squirrel monitoring has been attempted on this scale.

The results indicate that red squirrels are making a comeback across Northern England, showing the species is now also widespread across Northumberland, Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales.

The aim of the RSNE monitoring project is to continue to collect data that will demonstrate the impact of red squirrel conservation activities on red and grey squirrel distribution and abundance.