Red squirrel stand-off

Will shares how a short walk when his mind is full can be great for his wellbeing.

My mind is busy, tired and full. I need a break. So I step out the door into the fresh air.

Birds are singing in a pocket of pine woods to my left, so I wander that way, walking alone, quietly and slowly. It’s cool among the trees. The soft layer of needles below my feet cushion and quieten my steps. The area has recently been disturbed and some trees felled, mixing dying golden colours with vibrant green regeneration.

After a couple of minutes down the path, I spot some movement on the ground in my peripheral vision. I freeze momentarily, excitedly yet sub-consciously engaging stalker mode. I step as silently as I can to a tree from which I can peer around and look in the direction of that mysterious movement... 

But I am spotted first. A small, rust coloured creature bounces over twigs and skips through grass towards me. Can it be a red squirrel? They are so rare, I don’t believe it…

But sure enough, as the creature approaches it is unmistakable. I see its tufty ears, big black eyes and bushy tail – more orange than red, in truth. I can’t believe my luck. I’ve read and written about the threats to this endangered indigenous species, but never seen one with my own eyes. Here, in Scotland, are some of the last strongholds.

About five paces from me, this rare rodent pauses. I am still ‘hiding’ behind the rough barked pine trunk and craning my neck around, but there is no question my furry friend has seen me and is staring right at me.

Astonishingly, the squirrel rears onto its hind legs, stands tall and pumps its shoulders towards me – left, right, left, right... for several seconds. The rapid pumps reminiscent of a gorilla thumping its chest trying to impress and intimidate, only... smaller, and quieter.

After this display, the squirrel drops down on all fours again. It is poised on a fallen tree that lies diagonally towards me. My challenger steps forward and pointedly rubs its rear on the log as if marking its ground. A few hops closer and the squirrel is back up on its hind legs in a flash. It pumps its shoulders at me again – and for a longer spell this time. Then with a quick sniff of the air, the squirrel returns to all fours, spins and scampers up a nearby tree.

Only in this quiet and still moment of the stand-off do I notice the gentle and cool rain that has been falling, finding its way down from the thick, white clouds and through the canopy to reach my grateful face. Tuned in again to my surroundings, I also realise there is a cool breeze blowing. And I hear the chaffinches chirping, which I see in my peripheral vision moving all around us.

My red-tailed friend leaps through the air to another tree, then another – each further away from me. It leaps with skill not just strength, like a gymnast. I decide this is my cue and I turn to leave this squirrel in peace.

You never know what you will find in the woods if you look and listen carefully enough – I am grateful for that today. My mind is energetic, free and focused as I leave the pocket of trees.

By William Baldwin-Cantello

Thriving With Nature

WWF and the Mental Health Foundation have come together to produce a guide for you. We want you to thrive and for nature to thrive around you. We think the two are mutually supportive.

Read the guide