WILDLIFE experts have urged people to adopt a red squirrel, as part of an initiative aimed at safeguarding the future of the endangered native species.

Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) is promoting its adoption scheme as part of the national Red Squirrel Awareness Week.

Brownsea Island, Poole Harbour, is one of only two places in the south of England where red squirrels continue to survive.

DWT communications officer Sally Welbourn explained: "This time of year red squirrels are foraging on the woodland floor for food to support them and their young through winter.

"So the chance of getting an up-close sighting of them on Brownsea Island is high during September and October.

"If you visit, look out for the adoption packs in the Villa visitor centre, or you can order one online for just £20.

"Not only is it a great gift, but it is a great way to support conservation work to look after these interesting and endangered creatures."

The UK is home to two species of squirrel - the red squirrel and grey squirrel.

Populations are currently estimated at around 140,000 reds and 2.5 million greys.

While red squirrels are the UK's native species, thought to have lived here for around 10,000 years, grey squirrels were introduced from North America in the 1800s.

Many studies suggest that it was the introduction of the grey squirrel that proved the major factor in the red's demise, in particular through competition for food and shelter.

Grey squirrels also carry the squirrel pox virus, which, although does not impact their health, proves fatal once transmitted to red squirrels.

Conservation work to maintain the red squirrel's habitat takes place on Brownsea Island throughout the year.

The island is home to more than 200 of them.

Through the red squirrel adoption scheme, DWT hopes to raise enough funds to help safeguard the island's red squirrels for years to come.

The adoption pack costs £20 and includes a certificate, photograph, pin badge, fact-sheet, an update from the Brownsea Island warden and a red squirrel soft toy.

Red Squirrel Awareness Week takes place from Monday, September 24, up until Friday, September 30.

Visit dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/redsquirreladopt for further information.