PLANS have been submitted to create a special enclosure for red squirrels at one of North Yorkshire's leading tourist attractions.

Castle Howard has applied to Ryedale District Council for planning permission for the development at its Yorkshire Arboretum. Planning documents show it would contain breeding and release pens, a boardwalk for visitors and a viewing platform.

The enclosure would cover 3,000 square metres, and according to the planning statement submitted to the council, would "enable effective interpretation of healthy trees and woodland, in conjunction with the arboretum's tree health centre".

The statement continues: "The proposal is to create an enclosure where the public can enjoy a close encounter with red squirrels and use the facility to interpret the ecological and economic consequence of grey squirrels to natural and commercial woodland and explain the need to control them. Experience elsewhere has demonstrated that this approach is palatable to the public."

A successful model at Escot Park, Devon, has been used as the basis for the proposal, and the long-term aim is to be able to release native red squirrels back into the wild in the Howardian Hills, "if the grey squirrel population can be controlled sufficiently to make this possible" – however it is accepted this is "probably many years away".

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Should the plans be granted, a zoo licence would be required, and the application says the arboretum would work closely with DEFRA's Animal and Plant Health Agency, based at Sandhutton, to secure the licence, and on husbandry and veterinary care issues for the red squirrels.

The planning statement adds: "Keeping red squirrels may seem to be a departure from the core purpose of the arboretum, but the project is deeply intertwined with the tree health centre, for which planning consent was granted in January 2019.

"The arboretum has been very fortunate in securing the interest of its patron, HRH The Prince of Wales, in both aspects of the tree health project and the Prince of Wales's charitable fund has made them a major grant that will fund work within the tree health centre and the capital costs of the red squirrel enclosure, subject to the receipt of planning consent."

This story originally appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times.

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