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The Island is famous for its red squirrels and has one of the best and the last English populations of this shy woodland animal. Parkhurst Forest near Newport is one of the best places to search for them and you might be lucky enough to see some from the magnificent log cabin hide which we built with the help of the Forestry Commission. The hide is specially designed with a high roof to allow you to look up into the treetops to watch for a display of nimble squirrels. Look out too for the rare pearl-bordered fritillary Butterfly which likes the wide clear and flowery paths through the forest.
The largest of G2N’s constructions the red squirrel viewing hide was built in 2001 with the help of the Forestry Commission and the island probation service and paid for by Lottery money and local fundraising. The hide is made from timber directly from Parkhurst Forest and is at the centre of a ‘squirrel safari’ which takes you on a short circular trail where squirrels are likely to be seen. There are information points along the route and two large and impressive Paul Sivell tree carvings marking the path to the hide itself.
The Hide and Squirrel Safari are situated in Parkhurst Forest, which is partly a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The forest consists of both ancient woodland (meaning it has existed since before 1600) and plantation woodland. The forest is owned and managed by the Forestry Commission. The Red Squirrel Viewing Hide was opened by David Bellamy, it resembles a log cabin and is built mostly from oak and douglas fir harvested from the forest. The hide is free, open all year and accessible to pushchairs (wheelchair access may be possible for some users, but access is via gravel paths). Parkhurst Forest is open to the public and has a selection of well-maintained paths in addition to the Squirrel Safari and a large car park with picnic tables.
Where is the Viewing Hide?
The car park PO30 5LZ SZ480900
The hide PO30 5UL SZ476905.
From Newport by car follow the signs for Yarmouth via Forest Road. After about one mile on Forest Road look out for the turning into Parkhurst Forest and park in the car park. Then follow the signs around the Squirrel Safari via the Hide.
By bus, the nearest stop is Standen Avenue, but for a more regular service go to St Mary’s Hospital then walk along Forest Road.
What Can You See?
At Parkhurst you can see pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies which are regarded as important on the national scale by the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP). This butterfly is scarce locally and its population is declining. The caterpillar and butterfly feeds on violets, which are also in decline. Your best chance to see this pretty butterfly is between late April and July in forest clearings. White admiral butterflies can be found in Parkhurst. They have been identified as a medium priority species by the Regional Action Plan. White Admirals are a striking butterfly with a white band on black. They eat honeysuckle and are best seen near brambles in sunny glades or the cleared paths (forest rides). These rides and clear fell areas in Parkhurst are important because the long grass habitats are great for small mammals and their predators such as the long-eared owl. You can also see sparrow hawks and buzzards. The ponds in the centre of the forest are home to great crested newts, Britain’s largest newt which can live up to 27 years. Great crested newts are dark in colour and eat insects, both in the water and on land. The red squirrel is Britain’s only native squirrel. The Island’s population has been able to thrive due to the absence of grey squirrels. Grey squirrels were introduced to Britain around the end of the eighteenth century. It is uncertain why this was done but likely that the Victorians had little understanding of the damage this would cause. Red squirrels have also suffered due to the loss of their habitats; they are able to live in a wide range of forest types but they prefer conifer because they can forage more efficiently. Red squirrels are 35 to 40cm from nose to tail, weighing only 350g. Their colouring is hugely variable, ranging from bright ginger, red through to dark brown and they can even be tinged with grey. In the winter they are particularly noticeable with their big ear tufts. Squirrel nests, called dreys, can be spotted in tree forks or hollows and are constructed from twigs and lined with moss and hair.
We have commissioned local artist Paul Sivell to construct a selection of unique chainsaw timber carvings. See the gallery for a picture of Paul carving the giant squirrel climbing a tree.
Map Illustrator Alan Rowe has created a route card for the site to show how to find the hide and navigate your way around the forest. The Squirrel Safari map is available in our map pack click here for details of where to buy the Map Pack.