Brownsea team squirrelling away to capture new audiences' imagination
Twitter users across Poole and Bournemouth have been puzzling the discovery of toy squirrels in the two towns...
Each toy carries the hash tag #NTsquirrels and a web link to information about Brownsea island, home to a colony of rare red squirrels.
Messages have been buzzing around the towns logging the discovery of the squirrels, with speculation about how many might be hidden away waiting to be found.
The squirrels have turned out to be part of a stunt organised by the Trust, and each one has a luggage label with instructions on how to register the find via Twitter. Some of the toys carry a finder's reward of free tickets to visit a Trust place.
'We wanted to celebrate our delightful colony of squirrels on Brownsea with a little bit of fun for our neighbours on the mainland,' said Elaine Arnold, Development Manager.
'Our squirrels are always particularly active at this time of year and more easily spotted by visitors. We thought it might be fun to let a few toys ones be equally active and make a break for freedom across the water.'
The stunt will continue until Monday 22 October, when any remaining red squirrels will be rounded up and taken back to Brownsea, so there is still plenty of time to find one.
The island's red squirrels are one of the few colonies left in England, the isolation on the island having protected them from the squirrel pox brought by their grey cousins which have removed the red squirrels from most of the rest of England.
We have been working to ensure the squirrels' long term survival, including removing wild Rhododendron to allow the natural re-growth of heath and pine trees, ensuring there will be a food supply into the future. Thinning some of the pine trees allows them to grow more pine cones containing the nuts the squirrels eat, as well as giving room for the trees to naturally regenerate.
At 500 acres, the island is large enough to sustain a thriving population of squirrels, and unusual in not having any natural predators for the squirrels - encouraging them down to the ground to feed where they can be more easily seen. It is estimated by conservationists that the island population is doing so well that it is currently at about the maximum the island can sustain.
'This is a good time to see them when they are busy gathering food for winter which is why we have our red squirrel walks on the island. You are pretty much guaranteed to see one of them whenever you visit, especially at this time of year' said Claire Dixon, Brownsea's Visitor Services and Enterprises Manager.
Visitors to the island will get a chance to spot one of the elusive creatures on a series of red squirrel walks being held through the autumn, up until 4 November.
The walks are part of our Great British Walks with people encouraged to upload information about their favourite walks to our website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/greatbritishwalk