Published: 06:00, 14 January 2021
By John Bett
A super-stud red squirrel has retired in Kent after leading the fight to save his species - by siring a dozen offspring.
Randy rodent Radish has grown to become the star in Wildwood's breeding program at the wildlife charity's 220-acre Escot estate in Devon since he was born five years ago.
His keeper, Ben Gregory, said the tireless breeder played a 'crucial' role in the fight against red squirrel population decline.
His legacy is also expected to expand considerably when his kits are released into the countryside next year.
And Ben said Radish was now taking a well earned rest but said he would be sorely missed from the centre in Ottery St Mary.
He said: "Radish is a real star. He has played a crucial role in our breeding efforts producing a total of 12 kits for release projects.
"We’re all sorry to see him go, but he’s certainly earned his retirement.”
Radish will be released into a walk-through woodland enclosure at the charity's site in Herne Bay, where he will join a small group of males.
Ben added: "We also have an open woodland habitat here in Devon.
“But in order to have proper control over breeding, ours is an all-female facility whilst the enclosure at our sister park in Kent is all-male.
"In addition to providing an excellent opportunity for visitors to see this iconic species in their natural habitat, these amazing woodland habitats enable us to provide a fitting retirement for both our male and female squirrels once they’ve left the programme.”
The red squirrel population has been in a steep decline since grey ones were introduced from America in the 1800s.
Numbers in the UK have fallen from a around 3.5 million to around 120,000. The population in England is thought to be as low as 15,000.
General Manager at Wildwood Escot, George Hyde said: “Radish has played a vital role in the long, ongoing battle against the grey invasion, but his contribution would be impossible without the generosity of our supporters.
"At this time of year we see a spike of interest in our red squirrel adoptions and hand-feeding experiences which, in addition to funding our breeding and release programme, make ideal Christmas gifts.”
Carrying on the family tradition, Radish’s son, Bonsai, will be paired with a new female red squirrel arriving soon from Welsh Mountain Zoo.
The staff at Wildwood Escot are confident that Radish’s legacy will continue with his grandchildren following their aunts and uncles, released into the British countryside next year.
Wildwood, which was set up in 1999 in Kent and opened its Devon site in 2015, aims to restore Britain's native species.
In one of its latest projects it is looking for a bison ranger to oversee a breeding programme in Blean Woods, outside Canterbury.