Morpeth and District Red Squirrels

Morpeth and District Red Squirrels

Welcome to the summer edition of the MADRS Newsletter 2019

This summer is proving to be an extremely busy one for MADRS along with lots of other Red Squirrel conservation groups in Northumberland. We have seen influxes of grey squirrels into many areas and our control team have been very busy. Over 750 greys have been removed so far. At this point I must also say a huge Thank You to Kate and Judy who have been driving round like silly nits collecting grey squirrels from numerous garden traps. This has been an almost endless process these last few weeks with sometimes two trips to the same household in a others! We are desperately short of help to deal with these and if anyone was able to help collect and deliver garden trap squirrels to a member of the control team we would really appreciate you getting in touch. Many hands make light work!

As alway, we stress that the grey control is an unfortunate necessity of red conservation. It is simply not possible to protect red squirrels without controlling the invasive grey squirrel.

We hope you enjoy reading the newsletter and if you have any articles or photos you'd like to contribute to a future edition, please email them through to us.

Our contact details
Mobile 07570 897979
You can also visit our website  

Anyone in Morpeth on July 14th will have been aware of an amazing event being held in Carlisle Park... the annual 'Picnic in the Park'. This is a free event for everyone. Local churches provide burgers and hot dogs (including vegetarian options of course), and music rings out as all sorts of different bands play during the afternoon.

MADRS were invited to attend this year and our position was appropriately located between the RSPB and Northumberland Wildlife Trust, a very “wildlife conservation” focussed part of the park.

We met many people who were interested in our work and keen to know where they may see native red squirrels. A lot were surprised to find out reds are alive and well in woods around Morpeth and some have even been spotted in gardens in the town. Special mention must go to Brain Craske who made bird boxes, squirrel feeders and garden ornaments for us to sell on our stall. Local gardens will now be more attractive to wild life than before.

We were really impressed by the support provided by the Greater Morpeth Development Trust who organised the event. Air Cadets, Northumberland County Council services staff and the Trust team were all on hand to give any practical help that was needed. Litter was collected throughout the day and stewards directed traffic at the beginning and end of the event to ensure stallholders got in and out of the park safely. As I left mid-afternoon the sun was out, the KEV 1 steel band was playing, the boats were busy on the river and the park was full of people enjoying themselves. Morpeth looked wonderful.

Kate Weightman

It is with great sadness that we heard about the death of Norman Dyson, a member of MADRS for many years. Norman was a lovely kind man and will be greatly missed by everyone who knew him. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Jenny and family at this very sad time.

Sue Mitchell

Top photo by Ian Burnell, Hauxley
Lower photo by Pauline Gilbertson, Hauxley


Those of you who received our previous newsletter will doubtless remember the worrying information regarding grey squirrels having been spotted close to the reserve, with its resident colony of native reds. It is good to be able to report that Northumberland Wildlife Trust, through its red squirrel project, Red Squirrels Northern England, have taken remedial action by employing a ranger to undertake grey control in the area. A meeting was held on July 17th to encourage more local community involvement in red conservation. Hopefully this will result in the woodlands around Hauxley being kept clear of greys and preventing any incursions into the reserve.

Kate Weightman

Please consider signing and sharing the petition "Forestry Commission England: End the killing of red squirrels and other rare wildlife: Change the UK Forestry Act"

You can read more and sign the petition here:

Kind Regards
Julie Bailey


Red Squirrels Northern England (the red squirrel “arm” of The Northumberland Wild Life Trust) has been awarded a substantial grant by the Ray Wind Farm fund to undertake red conservation in the area covered by the wind farm. Although this is right on the edge of our area we were invited to join a steering group comprising all those voluntary groups who are working there.

The North Tyne Squirrel Group, Coquetdale Group and Wallington estate are all represented along with Northeast Red Squirrels, a charity set up to support voluntary groups, whose representatives attend as they have an interest in any conservation work in this area.

Northern Red Squirrels, the umbrella organisation for local voluntary groups is also part of the group as are the members of RSNE and the ranger they now employ to do grey control work in the Ray Wind Farm area. Between them there is a comprehensive body of local knowledge about red conservation, local land owners and the woodlands where wildlife can be found. Integral to the project is work being done with landowners interested in signing up to the Countryside Stewardship scheme, a government funded way of paying landowners to undertake grey control on their property. It is hoped that if enough estates become involved the project will be self-sustainable after the current grant runs out. RSNE are also planning to recruit local residents who are interested in red conservation, they will become part of the existing voluntary groups in addition to working with the project ranger.

The Project is accountable to the RWF Board, Chaired by one of the local landowners who is extremely supportive of red conservation. The meetings I attend on behalf of MAD RS hope to be able to offer support and give advice on local issues which will enhance the effectiveness of the RSNE staff.  

Kate Weightman

There is a current petition open to signatures asking parliament to remove VAT from trees, tree guards and other tree planting products. At a time when the government is seeking to be carbon neutral (and trees are the best means of achieving this), why do these items carry a taxation?

One of the great threats to our native red squirrel comes from the increasingly large number of building programmes across the country, and the felling of trees that is often involved. The destruction of their habitat often drives reds away in search of a safer environment and anyone wishing to help by planting trees must pay VAT to do so.

Woodruff Wood have just placed their order for trees for planting in this autumn/winter. If they didn't have to pay VAT, they could have ordered an extra 300 trees!

With all the tree pests and diseases now present in the UK, including ash dieback which is starting to hit hard everywhere - you just have to look at the ash trees as you pass along the lanes to see them dying - (see photo below) - it is more important than ever to be planting trees for the future. By removing VAT, it really would make a difference in increasing the number of trees which get planted.

Tree planting is something that everyone can don't have to be a woodland owner. Buy a tree from a local garden centre or tree nursery and plant it in your garden. 

...And interestingly, in the red squirrel extinction debate, MPs emphasised the need to plant more trees for red squirrel habitat and biodiversity on the whole.

Woodland owners and members of the public are being urged to sign this petition. If you are interested, here is the link:

While the focus on grey squirrel control is mainly aimed at red conservation, areas where control work is undertaken can see a marked increase in bird populations. Grey squirrels predate on birds nests and also on young fledgelings. In areas where this predation is controlled or removed, birds have a greater chance of successfully rearing their young. In woodlands, the control of greys has enabled many birds such as the spotted flycatcher to increase their populations.
Many urban gardens in areas where greys are present see catastrophic nest raids by grey squirrels and the song and garden bird numbers have fallen dramatically. When visiting Liverpool, I was dismayed at the number of grey squirrels scavenging in the parks and frequenting gardens. With the numbers present, I am surprised any bird could evade these predators. Not surprisingly, the sightings of garden birds were few and far between.

Top photo of Mrs Wood Pigeon nesting on my bat shelf in the barn and below, my very friendly blackbird coming to collect food for her young from the feeder in the barn.
Below, 2 swallow parents with their 3 youngsters (only one, second from the left was camera shy and is facing the wrong way).
Photos by Sue Mitchell


Picking up a copy of the Morpeth Herald this week (just checking to see if pictures taken of our stall at the Picnic in the Park had made it on to the front page, they had not), I read the article by Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Northumberland MP, in which she strongly supported red conservation. She had spoken in the parliamentary debate on July 3rd on wildlife conservation and made special mention of the work done at Wallington which had resulted in reds returning to the estate. It does of course require constant vigilance to prevent greys entering the woodlands there and potentially infecting the reds which have established themselves in the area. Congratulations to Glen Graham, Wildlife Ranger at Wallington for his work. It was good to read such a public endorsement of the importance of this conservation. 

Kate Weightman

Conservationist ROBIN PAGE reveals his plan to save the red squirrels.

Article from The Mail.
Set up new colonies and wage war on the greys: Conservationist ROBIN PAGE reveals his plan to save the red squirrels 

ROBIN PAGE: Today, the number of red squirrels in England and Wales has fallen to between 12,000 and 16,000, and the population in Britain as a whole is down to 120,000 and shrinking fast.


Red Squirrel Awareness Week 23 to 30 September, 2019

Kay Haw, the new Director of the UK Squirrel Accord, is considering how best to use this and other opportunities eg Mammal Week to promote our messages. Please contact the UK Squirrel Accord if you have any thoughts and ideas.


The annual Big Butterfly Count is up and running until 11th August. This annual event is organised by Butterfly Conservation who have available a free app and an identification chart to download to help you recognise and record your sightings.

It's really easy to take part - pick a sunny spot, spend 15 minutes counting the butterflies you see and submit your sightings.

Find out more by going to:

Red Admiral Butterfly. Photo taken by Julia Meldrum


It has been an interesting year so far at Wallington with red sightings increasing now, following a drop as a result of a SQPV outbreak late last year which occurred whilst I was off work unwell. If anything it demonstrates that as long as greys are on our boundaries, the fragility of our reds, no matter how successful we become in building populations, is very real. It also shows that we only have to take our eyes off the ball for a few weeks, for even a heavily controlled area like Wallington to suffer dangerous levels of grey incursions.

In this vein, I delivered a presentation to our friends at Penrith and District Red Squirrel group a couple of weeks ago, and it was very interesting to hear that they too are seeing a big increase in grey numbers right now.  The reasons for this are reasonably clear, a mild winter and the wide availability of food.  Most of us are encountering female greys right now which are probably on their 2nd litter. It is simple maths to see the issue if each grey female even just has 4 kits twice a year!

It was heartening to see a red squirrel group event attended by over 100 people, and Penrith is in the enviable financial position to be able to pay for several self employed red squirrel rangers. A lot of this is down to the dedication and makeup of their membership, and there is no reason why we too, given enough members, could not aspire to such a position one day.  So please, talk to your friends, tell them the story of our poor little reds and see if you can get them on board – our reds desperately need more friends here in Northumberland. 

So right now, professional grey controllers  (of which there are maybe 10-12 of us all told nationwide, though lots of pest controllers and gamekeepers also do grey control, but pure full time grey controllers are a rare breed indeed)  are all seeing an extremely busy time. Of course, reds have also done well this year, though certainly in Northumberland they never seem to get quite as good an advantage from a mild winter that greys do for some reason.

Right now, greys are responding well to maize as a bait, and I see no reason to be using anything more expensive at this time. A search on the internet and the grey control forums in particular will show you all sorts of potions and recipes people swear by, a common one being the addition of aniseed oil.  I have tried most of these ideas over the years and I cannot honestly say I noticed any difference in effectiveness, with the exception of autumn and winter trapping where the glut of wild food which greys seem to find preferable to maize, can sometimes make the use of hazelnuts etc. advantageous. There is a school of thought which advocates stopping trapping during those times, but really, the answer to loss of interest in traps by greys is just to change your approach. It is a simple mantra, but if you are doing something which doesn’t work – change it! Hazelnuts are expensive, but it only needs one or two per trap for them to work. I like to place one right at the back of the cage trap as we would for any bait, and one near the front where it can be seen from the outside, but draws the grey in enough for it to then spot the one at the back which will trigger the trap.   In this way you can keep the costs down by not using too many. There is also the advantage that hazelnuts are not readily taken by hungry birds with the exception of the occasional jay or similar.  Having said this, there is nothing at all wrong with experimenting with what bait works best where you are – though bear in mind that the likes of peanut butter goes rancid after a while if not eaten, but otherwise, lots of baits such as walnuts have been used with success and even horse chestnuts make a free bait when gathered in autumn.

Glen Graham
Grey Control and Wildlife Ranger
Wallington Hall National Trust Estate

I know I've sung the praises of this organic 'miracle' powder in the past, but it still amazes me every time I use it for whatever reason. Diatomaceous earth feels like a very fine fawn coloured talcum powder. It is in fact a substance made from the fossilised remains of plankton. Under a microscope, the tiny particles are razor sharp and these lacerate fleas and bugs and all sorts of pests. It is 100% natural and organic and has no adverse side effects. I use it for the following:-
* Mixed with sand and wood ash from the stove as a flea and mite control for the chickens. (The mix is put in an old tyre as a chicken dust bath).
* As an organic non chemical wormer for the dogs.
* As an organic non chemical wormer for the chickens.
* As a pest control on veggies in the garden.

There are different grades of DE including human 'food' grade.
It is an amazing substance!

Photo by Mark Legard, Stannington


Photo taken in Stockholm, Sweden, by Alison Steven


With lots happening in the wood this summer, we've hand-picked three of our recent favourite things to share with you, starting off with... 

A Baby Roe Deer
Tiny and cute, about the size of a terrier, big wide eyes, beautiful soft brown fur covered with white spots - a baby roe deer! A chance discovery close to where we were working on the last day of May. Not long born, it wobbled unsteadily on its legs taking a few small steps before collapsing in the long grasses, where it was hidden from view. No doubt it was waiting for its mother to return (who would be feeding nearby in the wood). The roe kid was completely unaware of our presence – we tiptoed away in silence so as not to disturb it. How wonderful! 

New Discoveries
It seems that almost every week brings with it something new this summer. Whether it be a butterfly, a dragonfly, a ladybird, a moth or something else, we never know what we might find!
If we have to pick just one to showcase, it will have to be this four-spotted chaser – a type of dragonfly. It whirrs along the woodland rides giving us the merry-go-round and from a distance appears to be rather chunky and brown. But when it does settle, it is absolutely exquisite - both beautiful and intricate in its design. The colours and patterns on its wings are a true work of art.


Little Red and Butch

We now have two red squirrels – Little Red and Butch – living in the top part of the wood. Little Red – a girl, was spotted back in April when she began visiting our bird feeder every day. We soon realised what a struggle she was having in reaching the food, so we put up a dedicated squirrel feeder filled with peanuts, hazelnuts and sunflower seeds. To our delight, she quickly learnt how to use it and has been visiting ever since. After a few weeks, a second red squirrel – Butch – a boy, started to visit too.

They both have their own particular quirks and characteristics (don't we all)! Little Red loves sunflower seeds – she scoffs them at an incredibly fast rate of one every three seconds. She doesn't particularly like hazelnuts and always feeds facing the feeder. Butch on the other hand, loves hazelnuts and feeds with his back to the feeder. We can hear him gnawing the shell with his sharp teeth.

Both appear to be in good health and bit by bit they are getting used to us being around. At first they used to flee upon hearing us; now they respond in one of three ways: 1. They scurry up the tree to a branch and peep down at us. 2. They remain put and clench their fists nervously. 3. They freeze on the spot until we pass them by.

The most joyful piece of news though is that we are fairly certain that Little Red has had two litters of kits this year, giving birth in early spring and again in July. We will be keeping our eyes peeled for signs of little ones.

Please remember, if you sight either a red or grey squirrel in the Morpeth and surrounding area, report it to MADRS at or telephone/text the MADRS mobile 07570 897979.

If you would like to keep up-to-date with squirrel news from Woodruff Wood (along with lots of other woodland news) please sign up to our free newsletter at 

For any further information, please feel free to contact us on:

T: 07525 841361



Julia Meldrum and Chris Tomlinson


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....And finally, my little bit about hedgehogs. As I said in the last edition, one of the most important things to remember is to always have ground water out for small mammals and hedgehogs. During especially dry periods, animals that feed on slugs, worms and snails and the like often struggle. Much of their water is taken in their food source but when the ground is very hard, animals like hedgehogs struggle to be able to dig to find worms and grubs. This can lead to dehydration and this is especially so in young Hoglets. Putting a shallow bowl of water or a couple of bowls out in your garden can literally be a life saver. If you have hedgehogs about, a bit of supplementary feeding will help them too. Lactating mothers and their young will certainly benefit from that little extra boost.
Northumbria Hedgehog rescue at Longframlington are always looking for volunteers to help. If you can spare a morning each week, each fortnight or even monthly, then please get in touch with them.

Sue Mitchell

For information on how you can help Hedgehogs:-

Kindly forward this newsletter to anyone you think might be interested or circulate it round your group. If you would like to be added directly to our mailing list to receive our newsletter in March, July and November, please drop us a line at (our newsletter comes out 3 times a year).

Thank you for your continuing support