We have a lot of squirrels at the wood. They are “only” grey squirrels, not the native British red squirrel, but they are squirrels nonetheless.

Most people have a negative view of squirrels. “Tree rats” they are called, and because they are non-native they are somehow reviled as vermin.

However I have been very entertained, amused and impressed by the squirrels at the wood over the past few weeks. It has clearly been a “mast” year in our woods, with a prodigious crop of acorns from almost every oak tree. And where the acorns are, the squirrels are. Collecting, carrying and burying those acorns in little caches wherever they can find a place for them, giving meaning to the phrase “squirreling away”.

They are working extremely hard. They are being very inventive in where they bury the acorns, including, on one occasion, my boots, left in the barn building, and the next day sporting a fine collection of about 12 acorns, carefully stashed in the toe of the left boot. Every time I set up the wildlife camera I get many pictures of busy little squirrels carrying, digging, burying. Wherever you go in the wood.

Sometimes it doesn’t go right for them. After we built our new track, we spotted a couple of squirrels sitting in the middle of it looking a bit puzzled. It seemed they were thinking “I’m sure I buried some acorns here somewhere….” but of course their caches had been buried by our new track!

We are told that we should control squirrels, but I reckon that they are doing a pretty good job. We need them to bury lots of acorns and then forget where they have put them. This way we get new oak trees growing in the Spring. Red squirrels may be more absent-minded than grey squirrels, and less likely to damage the acorns in the process of burying them, but many of the grey squirrels’ caches, when dug up accidentally, have perfectly intact acorns that look capable of becoming a tree given a chance, and a lapse of memory on the part of the squirrel that buried them.

For my part, I’m happy to watch them, laugh at their antics, tolerate the occasional acorn cache in my boots, and hope that in the Spring, some of these will turn into new trees. That is what we are trying to achieve, and without the help of these little “tree rats” we are very unlikely to be successful.

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