A RED squirrel has been found dead – and it is believed it could have been poisoned.

A dog walker made the discovery in Rowbank Wood, Brampton, last week when the native rodent was found at the bottom of a tree hardly moving.

The woman who found the dying animal called Brampton and District Red Squirrel Group to help the creature.

Volunteers from the group got to the squirrel as fast as they could but by the time they arrived it had died.

Currently, red squirrel numbers are low in the UK as the invasive greys carry squirrel pox virus, a disease deadly to reds which has decimated the population over the years.

The wildlife trust says: “Grey squirrels are a familiar sight for many people across large parts of the UK and are often seen in parks and gardens, while the range of our native red squirrels is now limited to certain areas of the UK, such as Anglesey, parts of northern England and Scotland.

“In many cases, they have retreated to wilder, remote locations.

“Unfortunately, without conservation management, red squirrels could become extinct in England in approximately 10 years.

“Time is really running out to save our red squirrels.

“To preserve them, they must be kept apart from grey squirrels as the two species cannot live together long term.”

The dead woodland creature was taken for testing where the initial results ruled out pox.

The secretary for the Brampton and District Red Squirrel Group, Paul Bassindale, said: “We know there were a least two reds in the wood which is a very popular area for dog walkers.

"It’s very difficult to know the exact numbers in the area but there aren't enough of them to start with.

“We need to protect them, they’re the native species. We are devastated that it could have been poisoned.

“We’re not suggesting it has been deliberate but this could have a bigger impact on wildlife, not just the red squirrels.

“If a mouse has eaten something and been poisoned, an owl could easily become the next victim.

“We need to do as much as we can to protect them.”

The squirrel that was found was handed over Animal and Plant Health Agency which informed the Brampton group it had not died as a result of pox, the disease from grey squirrels, but possibly as a result of poisoning, suffering extensive haemorrhaging.

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs is investigating the death.

A spokesman said: “The Animal and Plant Health Agency was alerted to the death of a red squirrel in Brampton and are currently in possession of the squirrel and carrying out investigations into the possible causes.”