An uncomplicated life for squirrels

AS I watch discreetly from the kitchen window, they prance around my lawn and seem always to be preening themselves.

There are a couple of haltering skips and they come to a sudden stop and up go the paws to scrub away at their faces.

It is over the top, I think, but I’m sure that the behaviour will become more intense as word spreads among the black squirrels of Letchworth that the spotlight is turning on them this week and they will want to look their best.

Some people reckon that these furry creatures are nothing more than tree rats but I have a soft spot for them. I was not too happy when one of them set up home in my loft and could be heard scampering around up in the middle of the night but I managed to shoo him out and blocked up the hole under the eaves where he had got in.

With the news that the British public are being asked to track the movement of black squirrels comes a bit of history.

It is exactly 100 years since they were first recorded in the UK at Woburn. It is believed all the black squirrels now in this country – they originate from North America – are descendants of a dozen that were released from a private collection in Bedfordshire.

They are the same species as grey squirrels. The only known difference is a piece of DNA missing that produces pigment, meaning that they can only produce black fur.

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A boffin at Anglia Ruskin University is asking the public for help in mapping the geographical range of black squirrels which have been spotted in Herts and Cambridgeshire as well as Beds.

Considering that black squirrels can dart around with lightning speed when they want – especially when they are being chased by another of their species – it is perhaps surprising that the black squirrel gene has travelled only about 50 miles in the last 100 years which is around half a mile a year.

Perhaps it is because they are quite happy with their lot – unlike humans, judging from a new survey.

This claims that more than half the population of the UK believe their lives are too complicated. The average of 52 per cent is made up of 57 per cent of women and 45 per cent of men.

Seventy per cent of 16 to 24-yer-olds asked said they fitted into this category but – good news for us older ones – just 37 per cent of the over 55s said the same.

Managing money is the biggest complication of life, followed by managing work/life balance and family life.

A third said, rather unoriginally, that their lives would be less complicated if they earned more money.

Most blamed themselves for their own complications.

My message to anyone feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders is to install French doors or a conservatory if you don’t already have them, buy a comfortable easy chair, invite some squirrels to set up home in the garden, sit back and relax as you watch their antics.