Walkers in the Yorkshire Dales are being offered the chance of a close-up view of a threatened species.
The national park authority has teamed up with a landowner to set up a ten-mile walk to a special viewing area for red squirrels. The woodland, at Snaizeholme, near Hawes, is just a short distance from the Pennine Way.
Red squirrels, native to Britain, are threatened by squirrelpox virus, carried by the introduced American grey squirrel, but which does not harm them. Their bigger grey cousins also outcompete them for food.
Mr Kemp has managed the wood for some years. Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority staff have set up the trail to the Widdale Red Squirrel Reserve, one of 16 established in 2005 in the North of England.
Ian Court, the YDNPA’s wildlife conservation officer, said: “It’s very difficult to estimate how many red squirrels there are in the Snaizeholme reserve but they appear to be thriving there, thanks in large part to the enthusiasm and dedication of Hugh Kemp.
“One of the objectives of the reserves, as well as conserving red squirrels, is to try to make them available to the public.
“We believe that, to get people’s support for the red squirrels and to make them aware of just how much protection they need, we need to give people the chance to see them in their natural habitat.
“We are very grateful to Save our Squirrels, the Wensleydale branch of the Campaign to Protect of Rural England and the Forestry Commission who have contributed towards the cost of the work.”
The trail will open on 6 October. Walkers using the trail, which starts at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes, are warned they should be properly equipped for the outdoors and be able to navigate. The route uses open access land and ill defined paths.
There is also an MP3 commentary to accompany the trail, downloadable from the national park website. A leaflet and map of the route are also available.
Matt Neale, the YDNPA’s area ranger for Upper Wensleydale, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for walkers to see get to see one of the most threatened species in the National Park. We hope the route will also be used by walkers on the nearby Pennine Way who may want to make a detour to see the red squirrels.”
Mr Kemp said: “We are really proud that the red squirrels are doing so well in our woodland and we wanted to share their success with the public by giving people a chance to see these wonderful creatures in their natural habitat.”
Dales authority staff will also lead free guided walks along the squirrel trail on Tuesday 7 October and Saturday 11 October from the Hawes museum. Advance booking is necessary on 01969 666210. There will also be a free red-squirrel conservation talk at the authority-owned museum on Wednesday, 8 October.