The Snaizeholme red squirrel trail just outside Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales is a great place to photograph these wonderful creatures. I’d been here once before last year and loved it so much that I decided to came back again on a day off work recently. My first love is definitely wildlife photography, so what better place to cover as my first blog post.
Snaizeholme is one of a number of red squirrel refuges in the north of England and a great place to see what is now a rare sight in most parts of the UK (there are only around 15,000 red squirrels left in England). The woodland at Snaizeholme is carefully managed to provide food for the reds and also to keep out the grey squirrels, which carry a virus that is deadly to reds. The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and land owners created a red squirrel viewing area so that you can see these amazing creatures in the wild¹.
When I first visited Snaizeholme, I expected to perhaps see a squirrel somewhere high up in a tree and not get any good photos at all. Wildlife is predictably unpredictable, so there are no guarantees of the experience you will have. However on both occasions I visited, I have been treated to close encounters with these wonderful creatures. My first visit was definitely more memorable: as soon as I entered the woodland, there were squirrels everywhere! I spent a very happy 4 hours in the viewing area snapping well over 1,500 photos (I haven’t yet learnt restraint with the camera). On my last visit, the squirrels were enjoying most of their time elsewhere, so I didn’t get to see much. However I did have a lovely 5 minutes up close with two very inquisitive individuals, including this one who posed for me in the middle of the path:
It surprised me just how bold the squirrels are. I had them virtually on my feet the first time I visited. Last time they also came within about a metre of me. I had put on my long lens, but a mid-zoom would have been better as they were often too close to focus on! I think you could also get some great shots with a wide angle lens with a bit of patience. The viewing area is quite dark as you are surrounded by trees, so I had to put the ISO up high to get anything near a decent shutter speed, but I think on a sunny day you could get some very good photos here. If you are lucky enough to have a very fast lens, you could probably take some very good shots that are a lot less noisy than mine.
Getting to the viewing area is not easy and the ground can be very muddy. If you catch the bus (see details below), then you can follow the red squirrel trail map to the viewing area. Alternatively there is a 9 mile walk from the Dales Countryside Museum. The benefit of the area being remote is that you will most likely be the only person there, so more time for photographing squirrels without disturbance!
Here are some of the images I took on my two visits (click on an image to enlarge):
|Approximate post code (for sat nav)||DL8 3NB (for the trail)|
|Parking||There is no parking at the Snaizeholme red squirrel viewing area. The Little White Bus runs an on-demand bus service from the Dales Countryside Museum. It takes 10 minutes|
Location of the viewing area:
Notes for next time
- Try to go in the morning next time. I visited in the afternoon on both occasions and the land owner told me she feeds the squirrels in the morning. There might be a higher chance of seeing more squirrels!
- Take a medium zoom lens with a closer focusing distance
- Try to go on a reasonably bright day as the area is quite dark
¹ Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (2015) Go Nuts for Squirrels, Snaizeholme Red Squirrel Trail leaflet