The red-haired prince traveled to northern England to raise awareness for the area's endangered red squirrel population

By Simon Perry
Updated February 25, 2015 10:10 PM
Credit: Scott Heppell/WPA Pool/Getty

He had the welfare of red squirrels at heart, and when Prince Harry went looking for them Wednesday he demonstrated just how rare they are when he failed to spot one.

Harry, 30, was in a conservation area in Northumberland, Northern England, learning about efforts to protect the falling population of their native squirrel.

But touring two woodland areas run by Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Red Squirrel project near Fourstones – known to be home to around seven of the squirrels – Harry didn’t catch sight of any.

The native red squirrel has been dwindling in numbers because of the rise of the gray variety, which carries a disease fatal to their red cousins. (We can only imagine the redheaded prince feels a kinship to the rare and adorable rodent.)

So Harry had to content himself with viewing a squirrel feed box attached to a tree.

His guide, Conrad Dickinson, who got to know the prince during the Walking with the Wounded expedition in December 2013, told reporters, “He was disappointed [he didn’t get to see the squirrels], but it was a half-hour slot. He was saying that the red squirrel is a British icon.”

“It’s part of our heritage, it’s so important that future generations can see red squirrels,” Dickinson explained. “The fact that Prince Harry’s been here will raise the profile of us needing more volunteers. It’s a measure of the man that he’s found the time to come up to Northumberland in an incredibly busy schedule to follow through on his promise to help us.”

Harry was so keen to help that he even said he would get his land-owning friends on board, saying he was going to write a letter to the Duke of Northumberland to get him to help save the red squirrels.

Student Will Nicholls, 20, who photographs red squirrels, also met the prince.

“He came to the hide with me to try and find some red squirrels, but we didn’t see any,” he told reporters. “But it was great to have him and show him my photographs. He said he really liked them.”

Britain’s population of red squirrels has declined drastically in the last 60 years and they are virtually extinct in southern England.