A reoccurring theme in my wildlife diaries is finding the unexpected in places that you just couldn’t predict. Rare water birds in city centre parks, swifts in housing estates, new visitors to a city back garden. But sometimes the surprise comes from the fact that you’d let your guard down, focused on something really ordinary, and out of the blue you get to experience something special.
Whilst visiting my family who have recently moved to the Isle of Wight, we headed out for lunch at The Garlic Farm, a farm shop and cafe, set in their surrounding farmlands. I was in my own world, surrounded by family and about to tuck into some hearty garlicky grub, when outside a red squirrel bound over to a nearby window.
This was my first encounter with a red squirrel; I knew that the Isle of Wight was one of their last strongholds, but thought that I might need to find a trail or hide to get up close to them. But here they were! The farm shop had set a ‘red squirrel playground’ out with a pile of chestnuts in a bird feeder with ropes to keep them fed during the winter and boy, were the squirrels making the most of it!
The red squirrel is the UK’s only native species of squirrel, greys are invasive and have contributed to the red’s decline through disease and competition for resources. You’re most likely to see them on islands, far north in Scotland and northern England, and in some parts of Wales. They’re easily distinguished from their grey cousins by their red/orange coat and large tufts on the ends of their ears, earning them the nickname tufties!
As I watched them I could see that there was also a size difference, the reds I was watching were much smaller than the greys which live here in Cardiff. They were much more skittish and dashed off between feeds to a safe place to eat their fill of the nuts – definitely not as brazen as the greys who have been known to steal from picnics!
It was really great to see them so up close, and also to see the local businesses supporting their native wildlife. It’s something that I really took from the experience, how businesses and wildlife can work side by side, and even benefit each other! If you ever have the chance, I’d recommend visiting The Garlic Farm, supporting one of the islands businesses, and supporting their wildlife too!
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