Red squirrels are having a ball at a top Lakeland holiday park since aniseed was introduced to their feeding mix – and guests are loving the spectacle.
Skelwith Fold caravan park in Ambleside made news when it succeeded in re-introducing the endangered species to its grounds a few years ago.
The Prince of Wales – who is patron of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust – even wrote to the park congratulating it “most strongly” on its “efforts to preserve this wonderful creature”.
But according to park director Henry Wild, holiday guests would sometimes express surprise when they were unable to spot the reticent reds in the woodland.
“We have over one hundred acres of parkland at Skelwith Fold, and the red squirrels can be very well concealed when the trees have all their foliage,” said Henry.
“But after taking specialist advice earlier this year, we have been using a special seed blend which includes oil of anise – and moving the feeders closer to the margins of the wood.
“The results have been amazing with the aniseed acting like a magnet, and red squirrels have now become a much more common sight for people staying here.
“They provide some wonderful photo opportunities, and children especially have been taking some superb images which we will be putting up soon on our website,” said Henry.
But as well as providing some enduring holiday memories for guests, the squirrels’ aniseed treats are also playing a useful conservation role:
“We are quietly confident that our red squirrels have been growing in number over the past few years, but it can be difficult to gain hard evidence of this,” said Henry.
“However, because the squirrels are now more visible, it is allowing us to make an informal audit of their numbers, and we hope to have a good estimate by the end of the season,” he added.
And although the aniseed addition may not have much nutritional value, said Henry, it is helping younger red squirrels especially to gain the habit of using the feeders.
This, he said, will become especially vital in winter when the park traditionally introduces a high-energy feed to compensate for the relative shortage of wild food.
Meanwhile, said Henry, many guests continue to express delight that the endangered squirrels they have only before glimpsed on TV are now the colourful stars of their holiday.