Feature: Woodlands near Liverpool safe haven for endangered red squirrels

Source: Xinhua| 2017-04-15 02:51:34|Editor: An
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LONDON, April 14 (Xinhua) -- Famous English writer Beatrix Potter made the red squirrel popular by introducing her character Squirrel Nutkin to generations of children.

Experts have warned that the red squirrel could disappear completely by 2030, having lost its battle for survival against the stronger grey squirrel.

Thousands of people made the trek Friday to a special haven, north of Liverpool, which is one of just a handful of places in Britain where the red squirrel is able to survive.

The squirrel reserve at Formby, a vast area of conifer woodlands, is celebrating its 50th anniversary during the Easter holiday weekend. It gives visitors a chance to have a close encounter with the rare animal, described as cheeky and impish.

In Britain, there are 2.5 million grey squirrels and around 140,000 red squirrels. Red squirrels have lived in Britain for around 10,000 years, while the grey squirrel was introduced from North America in 1876.

An estimated 80 percent of red squirrels were wiped out in 2008 when an epidemic swept through the population. They caught a virus passed on by the grey squirrels who are immune to the disease.

The vast woodlands at Formby is cared for by the National Trust (NT), the official agency caring for special buildings and places across Britain.

A team of volunteers work to feed and keep a close eye on the squirrel community, making sure their grey cousins are kept away.

Now at Formby, which faces the Irish Sea, there has been a steady recovery of the species, and it is once again possible for visitors to enjoy seeing red squirrels along a specially created trail.

"Red Squirrels were once a common sight across Britain but, since the introduction of the North American Grey Squirrel in the 19th Century, their numbers have declined," said an NT spokesman.

The plight of the Red squirrel is recognized in local, regional, national and international conservation policies. It is afforded the highest level of protection under UK law -- the Wildlife and Countryside Act, according to the spokesman.

"Formby is one of the few places in England where Red squirrels have survived, and sightings of this charming little animal provide joy to local residents and visitors," added the spokesman, calling on people to continue to work together to protect the animal.