The tiny animal may not catch the attention of the public the way some others do but there are people, including Prince Charles, who realise that without assistance the red squirrel may soon disappear from the UK.
According to the Forestry Commission of Great Britain, the main threats to the red squirrels are the increasing number of grey squirrels, disease (squirrel poxvirus) and road traffic. Cats, pine marten and birds of prey also kill some of them.
Robin Page, founder and chairman of the Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT), wrote an article published in The Telegraph stating that: "From a countrywide population of several million 100 years ago, reds have fallen to about 120,000 today, with 80 per cent north of the border. Just 35 years ago they could still be found in many parts of the country."
He is pleased with Prince Charles' love of the squirrel and concern for biodiversity.
“Too few people, it seems, understand the importance of the relationship between biodiversity and our own human health," he quoted him as saying. "It is important to understand that we are currently going through what many people call the 'sixth great extinction event’. Iconic species are being lost across the world at a terrifying rate. We are losing some species at something like 1,000 times above the expected rate. I am not prepared to stand idly by .”
The grey squirrel, which is larger and more aggressive than the red, was brought to the UK from North America in the 19th century, and its population is now around three million.
The Prince called the introduction of the grey squirrel "one of the most disastrous introductions of foreign species there has ever been."
He pointed out that it is very destructive to the native deciduous trees.
“Even worse than this, the grey carries the horrendous squirrel pox disease," he added. "It is immune, but the little red is very susceptible. If any right-thinking person saw the appalling misery this dreadful disease inflicts on these gentle and charming creatures, I am sure they would join willingly in the battle against the grey.”
Infected red squirrels die within two weeks, with lesions around their eyes, ears and noses, unless they are found and treated early.
Prince Charles believes the red squirrel should become a national mascot to symbolise the fact that the country understands there is a duty to manage the environment.
He said doing nothing and witnessing the disappearance of "one of this country’s most endearing species" is unthinkable, and he is encouraged by the fact that people are writing to him to express their enthusiasm for having the red squirrel return to their part of the country.
At Birkhall, Prince Charles feeds the squirrels and they have become quite tame.
“As you can see, they even come into the house where I keep nuts in a bucket, which is a great joy," he told Page when he visited. "They are completely irresistible and will even take a nut off my shoe. I hate to tell you, Robin, my great ambition is not only to have one in the house, but sitting on the breakfast table and even on my shoulder.”
He is patron of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, and recently took part in the launch of Red Squirrels Northern England, a partnership designed to co-ordinate red squirrel conservation work in northern England.
“Reds are returning to the woodlands and gardens where they were once terrorised by the greys," he said at the launch. "My dream is that red squirrels might thrive throughout the United Kingdom and it's here in northern England that perhaps we could start to think that might be a reality, thanks to people like yourselves."
Save our Squirrels has more information on the red squirrel.