Red Squirrels, butterflies and bees
At Kelling Heath we are pleased to have captive Red Squirrels, which are part of a national scheme for captive breeding.
- The Red Squirrel Breeding Programme
- A look back at 2014
- Latest news - October 2013
- July 2013
- Protecting our bee population
- Silver-studded Blue Butterflies (Plebejus argus)
The Red Squirrel Breeding Programme
The aim of this scheme is to set up a reserve of animals for use in controlled and closely monitored release projects.
Since 1999 we have bred nearly 30 kittens (as the young are called) which have been either sent to other enclosures or released into the wild where established colonies still thrive.
A look back at 2014
2014 proved to be an exceptional year with the resident couple producing two litters over the course of the summer. A total of 5 kittens were born and could be seen cavorting about the enclosure bringing great joy to the visitors.
Latest news - October 2013
The two kittens born in July have enjoyed the summer sunshine playing to the visitors who stop to admire them.
We now know that we have one male and one female kitten which is really good news as there is a shortage of females within the breeding group nationally. This female will be moved to our smaller enclosure and our existing breeding pair moved back to the larger enclosure which they are used. Once the female is established in the smaller enclosure a male from another Norfolk breeding colony will be brought over and paired up with her to hopefully create a new successful breeding pair.
This will be the first time that we have kept two breeding pairs at Kelling and it could end up with squirrels all over the place! The other kitten our pair produced this year was a male. He has been found a suitable female over at Pensthorpe.
Loved-up Norfolk squirrels Red and Ginger are brushing up on their parenting skills following the birth of their first two kittens at Kelling Heath Holiday Park, near Holt.
The larger of the new arrivals was first spotted in the pair’s enclosure a few weeks ago, but staff from the park’s dedicated countryside team wanted to give it time to get used to its new home before investigating further. Its flame-furred little sibling was only discovered when Kelling Heath Holiday Park’s Countryside Manager David Martin crept in to the pen earlier this week to get a closer look.
Estimated to be around six weeks old and enjoying a diet of hazelnuts, pine nuts, cucumber and carrots both appear to be happy, healthy and at ease in their new surroundings. He said: “This really is fantastic news for everyone at Kelling Heath. We’d been keeping our fingers crossed that Red and Ginger would hit it off and now it looks like all our match-making efforts have paid off.
"It's quite rare for a doe [female squirrel] to give birth to just one kitten, so I wasn’t surprised when we found another closer to the nest. Now we’re all hoping that their parents go on to produce more litters and extend their fledgling family."
The park's newest arrivals come less than 10 months after Red and Ginger were introduced as part of a national red squirrel breeding programme. Female squirrel Ginger arrived at the park from Cornwall last September with staff hoping she would mate with their resident male squirrel and produce the patter of tiny paws. The pair were named following a reader competition in local newspaper the North Norfolk News.
Numbers of the red squirrel have been in serious decline in Britain since the introduction of the grey squirrel, who they compete with for food and habitat.
Kelling Heath Holiday Park is part of the East Anglian Red Squirrel Society. There are now around 15 enclosures in Norfolk and Suffolk taking part in the breeding programme.
Protecting our bee population
Bumblebees are among the more familiar of our insects but are under increasing threat due to changes in how the countryside is farmed. The number of species found in most of lowland Britain has halved since 1950 and three species have gone nationally extinct and several more may follow in the near future unless action is taken.
Bees feed exclusively on pollen and nectar and there are now far fewer flowers in the countryside than there once were. Hedges have been removed and marshes drained and unimproved grasslands which are rich in wildflowers have been lost and replaced by silage and cereal fields.
There is also concern about the decline in honeybees particularly from the Varroa mite which is decimating colonies throughout the world and which has been the subject of debate worldwide and in our own Houses of Parliament.
Bees make an important contribution to the sustainability of the countryside, contributing both to agriculture and horticulture and to biodiversity. They also produce honey and other hive products and further losses will have serious implications on food production both in the UK and worldwide.
Working with the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust and other agencies we intend to:
- Survey the species of bees that are currently present at Kelling Heath to obtain a base level of species and if possible numbers
- Research the habitat that is required for bees to thrive and review how we can provide pockets of suitable habitat at Kelling Heath without compromising existing habitats
- Raise funds throughout the year to assist in the provision of habitat for bees
- Interpret the threats to the bee population to visitors and show how we are attempting to reverse the decline
- Provide simple guidance on how visitors can play their part in helping to preserve the bee population in their own gardens across Britain
Silver-studded Blue Butterflies (Plebejus argus)
Here at Kelling Heath we have a rare butterfly - the Silver-studded Blue. It has declined throughout Britain becoming extinct in northern, central and southeast regions. The main reason for this decline is the loss of suitable heathland on which they depend, in the last century much Heathland has been planted for forestry, ploughed for agriculture or left unmanaged.
Silver-studded Blues became extinct on Kelling Heath by the 1970's mainly due to a lack of management. Following a study of heathlands in Norfolk, by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and English Nature, Kelling Heath was found to be a suitable place to reintroduce the butterfly, if appropriate management was carried out.
In 2001 several adult butterflies were translocated from another site in Norfolk to two release sites on Kelling Heath. Since then the butterflies have been increasing in number and have spread into new areas. Management is carried out each year to improve the area for the butterflies and other heathland wildlife and each year we have seen an increase in the numbers of Silver-studded Blues on the heath.
In 2013, 562 silver studded blue butterflies were recorded on Kelling Heath compared to 162 recorded on the same day in 2012.