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.
How to get there
On foot/By bike – Cycling is permitted on the gravel tracks throughout the forest, so you can cycle right to the entrance to the hide area. There is a suggested route from The Red Squirrel Trail (NCN 23) via Stag Lane, and a free map available to download here. On foot you can access the hide via the forest tracks from any entrance to the forest.
By bus – Forest Corner Stop (Route 7) + 15 min walk through the forest. (Bus Timetables)
By Car – There is a large gravel car park accessed from Forest Road. Parking is currently free. The hide is a 15 minute walk away. Postcode for the car park entrance for satnav PO30 5LZ
From the car park there is a path leading towards the hide which is uneven in places and can get muddy after rain. There is an alternative route via the tarmac drive to Signal House and a short section of gravel track from there to the hide.
What to look out for
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.
Managing the site
The Red Squirrel Viewing Hide was built in 2001 by Gift to Nature and opened by David Bellamy, it resembles a log cabin and is built mostly from oak and douglas fir harvested from the forest. You will also see various sculptures around the hide created by local artists. In 2015 we refurbished the hide, installing new interpretation materials, magnifying posts to inspect your forest-finds and some huge leaf seats which you can relax in and gaze up into the forest canopy.
There are various ways you can help improve and maintain our sites. We rely on conservation volunteers to help with many tasks and also need people who are happy to regular visit the site be our “eyes and ears”, this means we can respond much quicker to issues. Find out more here.
You can also help by becoming one of our regular supporters. Even giving a few pounds each month can make a real difference, with your donation being invested into site management and improvement work to benefit site visitors and look after our precious wildlife. Sign up here.