Red squirrels are quite an attraction at Moore Hall
MOORE Hall continues to attract plenty of visitors, not just those who wish to view the sculpture trail or enjoy the looped walk, which cleverly delivers people back to their cars without them having to retrace their steps, but we also have plenty who want to see the local wildlife, and especially the red squirrels.
Up until recently these animals have only seen people in small numbers, and have been able to conceal themselves when they didn't feel like entertaining.
Now they are surrounded by folks – not that this is altogether a bad thing – and they haven't far to flee from one busy pathway before they find themselves at another. And so they have retreated and are seldom seen.
One good sign they are in the area is the nibbled spruce comes at the base of particular trees.
The squirrels enjoy the seeds that are found within the cones, and consider the job of extracting them very worthwhile. They would like to enjoy their meal in the treetops if they could.
There they could remain out of sight and nibble to their heart's content, and the only sign we would see of them would be a shower of woody scales falling to the forest floor.
But the spruce cones are growing at the end of slender branches. It is no problem for the squirrels to reach the cones.
They were made for such activity. But they need all their feet to scramble back to the safety of larger boughs, so they bite through the stem of their chosen cone and let it fall, then down they come to claim their prize.
Rather than carry it back up the tree, which would seem an improbable task for such a small animal, they sit on an old stump or an exposed root and enjoy their hard-earned lunch, chewing through the tough outer layer of the cones to find the tiny seeds within.
We searched the woods this last weekend, hoping to find fresh signs that our squirrels have been feeding.
Although we could see where they had been a week or a month ago, we found only one freshly frittered come.
That is a sign that one squirrel, at least, is still around. The rest must have gone away through the woods to find somewhere more secluded.
We shouldn't give up hope, though. Given time they will become more used to seeing people about the place, and will doubtless provide great entertainment for young and old alike.
Although the number of cones on the spruce trees has diminished considerably, there are still enough to provide a good meal for a family of squirrels. But what will they eat when the cones are all gone?
They are resourceful creatures and can resort to a variety of other foods, including buds and shoots or even plain bark.
They like some kinds of fungi as well, although the woods about the place have pretty much been stripped of every kind of mushroom that grows there.
That is the perennial problem with nature reserves. So many people go to enjoy the wildlife that the wildlife becomes unsettled and moves away. Foragers – and foraging for wild foods has become a very popular pastime – take all the edible fungi.
Some forage responsibly and take only a portion of what they find, while greedies take the lot. Even a succession of responsible foragers can deplete the squirrel's larder.