Penrith and District Red Squirrel Group

by Ian Jack

Banner Image © Paul Harris

Cumbria's red squirrels

The native red squirrel was widespread in Britain before grey squirrels arrived! Following the introduction of these grey invaders in 1876, red squirrels rapidly disappeared from many areas as they were pushed out by the insurgent greys.

Thankfully, red squirrels continue to reside in Cumbria and the Penrith & District Red Squirrel Group work tirelessly at extending their existence here, using dedicated Red Squirrel Ranger contractors working across a vast area of approx. 650 square miles.

Through the groups’ consistent squirrel management programmes, the much loved iconic red squirrels can survive and thrive into the future however, overcoming many of the challenges the grey squirrels bring is no mean feat!

It is without doubt that the tremendous success of P&DRSG’s work for red squirrels to date has helped to protect these enchanting creatures and prevented them from becoming extinct and could not have been achieved without effective grey squirrel management and the support of our members.

Red squirrels are now present throughout the woodlands of our group area and we also hear from many members who are now enjoying the company of red squirrel visitors to their gardens.

Creation of the Penrith & District Red Squirrel Group in 2006

Penrith and District Red Squirrel Group (P&DRSG) was first constituted in October 2006. The original trustees were made up of a diverse group of landowners, businessmen and interested local people who all shared a common enthusiasm for the protection and conservation of the native red squirrel. At that time the writing was clearly on the wall and they had all witnessed the demise of red squirrels due to the incursion of greys over most of the rest of the country. They were determined not to let it happen in their part of Cumbria.

Initially the group was set up as an independent organisation although it eventually amalgamated with other like-minded groups, both in Cumbria and Northumberland, under the umbrella of the Northern Red Squirrel Organisation (NRS).

With an administrative area of 650 square miles taking up one quarter of Cumbria the Penrith group is by far the largest and it has borders with seven other groups such as Alston, Brampton, Solway, West Lakes and South Lakes.

From the outset the trustees were committed to the conservation of the red squirrel and their determination meant that initially, with the help of the local public, they were able to raise enough money to take on, as a contractor, a squirrel ranger.

From small beginnings and with generous sponsorship and a lot of effort from dedicated volunteers and landowners the trustees were able to take on more contractor rangers until by the beginning of 2020 there were five contracted rangers and another who is employed by the local Centerparcs which has one of its Holiday Villages in part of Whinfell Forest. Whinfell Forest is owned by the Lowther Estates and is designated as a Red Squirrel Reserve. These contracted rangers are backed up by an administrator, who also works on a contract basis, and numerous volunteers along with the trustees so that the area now looks something like this.

Penrith is situated at the very centre of the region with Carlisle to the north the Pennines to the east. The whole area is virtually bisected by the M6 corridor. The Ullswater area can be seen in the middle left zone

Notable success in the Ullswater region

With an administrative area of 650 square miles taking up one quarter of Cumbria the Penrith group is by far the largest and it has borders with seven other groups such as Alston, Brampton, Solway, West Lakes and South Lakes.

After five years the situation had been virtually reversed. This graph shows just how thanks to the dedicated work of the ranger and with the generous support of residents and businesses in the Ullswater area Red Squirrels bounced back and today reds can be seen throughout the area with the consequence that public support has increased dramatically.


The regular income from membership helps us to plan our work activities and our aim to sustain red squirrel presence in this glorious part of Cumbria. All membership money is spent on red squirrel conservation here; as one of the last places in England where native red squirrels still exist and they need you now!

Annual membership starts from as little as £20 but please feel free to give more; the more you give, the more we can do! A regular contribution by standing order would be much appreciated as would some meaningful sponsorship or a major donation.

For more information:

By Ian Jack

Red Squirrel © Paul Harris

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