Red squirrels travel on Cumbria cycle route

Red squirrel with white tail eats on a feeder

A regular visitor to our Sea to Sea route, a male red squirrel with a blonde tail. Photo credit: Mike Mossop/West Lake Squirrel Initiative

31 October 2017

A group of red squirrels has been spotted using an off-road section of the popular long distance Sea to Sea (C2C) path which we maintain.

Our volunteers regularly see four red squirrels (one female and three males) at a feeding and monitoring station in Seaton to Broughton moor section, on the former iron ore railway line. They were a few miles away from their local stronghold in Broughton, which the team says is a clear sign the animals are using the linear path to travel between feeding grounds.

The 16 miles of cycle path runs between Whitehaven to Rowrah and Workington to Seaton, Siddick and Broughton Moor, and is known locally as Tracks of the Ironmasters, because it once hauled iron ore to local mines. The path is owned and managed by us and is now part of a project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to restore the natural, social and industrial heritage of the area.

The red squirrels are often spotted at the route’s new feeders, which were constructed by Sustrans apprentices, and we are appealing for people to name the most regular feeder visitor – a male squirrel with a distinctive white tail (pictured).

We work with the West Lakes Red Squirrel Initiative, which monitors the feeder and sitings, and reports to a red squirrel data base across the North.

Sustrans Project Officer Nikki Wingfield said:

“This is clear evidence that red squirrels are using the cycle and walking route to move away from their stronghold in Broughton. It is exciting as it means the path is acting as an important highway to link up isolated squirrel habitats.

“In the past we’d had reports that there were red squirrels on the cycle path and it’s brilliant we can now confirm that we are actively part of protecting red squirrels across the whole of the north of England. We really need to help protect red squirrels from the greys in this area so if you do spot a grey squirrel in this area please contact the West Lakes Squirrel Initiative.”

Grey squirrels are a carrier of the highly contagious squirrel pox virus. Whereas greys have developed immunity, all infected red squirrels die, generally within 15 days, so contact with infected greys could decimate the population.

We work with local volunteers to manage the old track for wildlife, including tree and wildflower planting, raking to encourage wildflowers along the path and restoring habitats such as small wetland areas, heathland and hedgerow habitats.

In May 2016 we won a £859,300 from HLF to preserve and improve access to the rich historic and natural heritage of the path, which is linked to former iron ore mines at Knockmurton and Kelton and ironworks at Workington, Cleator and Distington. It includes a number of historic bridges and remnants of the path’s past, such as a rock crusher and railway signal.

The C2C route attracts around 15,000 cyclists every year for the challenging 140 mile long distance ride between Whitehaven and Sunderland.

Find out more about the Sea to Sea route

Help us find a name for the squirrel (Sustrans Facebook page)