A quartet of baby red squirrels have been born at Longleat Safari Park - the first to have been born at the Wiltshire wildlife attraction.

The babies, a boy and three girls are known as kits, are part of a UK-wide breeding programme for the rare, native mammal which aims to reintroduce the species back into the wild.

The last red squirrel sighting in Wiltshire was in 1965 and they’re now virtually extinct in England, except for isolated populations on the Isle of Wight, Brownsea Island, Formby, the Lake District and parts of Northumberland.

Longleat keeper Chris Burr said: “We’re very excited to announce the birth of our very first red squirrel kits here at Longleat.

“The youngsters are part of a very special captive breeding programme with the aim that one day these amazing animals can be reintroduced and thrive in our native landscapes.

“Our role is to establish a healthy breeding population and, once fully grown, these kits will become part of future breeding programmes or perhaps even wild release themselves."

“Obviously our ultimate goal would be to have a population living on the Longleat estate and the aim is for us to have the native red squirrels back on site within the next 10 years,” he added.

The baby squirrels were born in a type of nest known as a drey, which is roughly the size of a football and made up of twigs and small branches with leaves, moss and grass lining the inside.

Like other mammals, they’re born blind, deaf and hairless and are totally dependent on their mother for the first 10 weeks of their lives.

The red squirrel was the inspiration for Beatrix Potter’s famous ‘Squirrel Nutkin’ and was widespread across most of the UK until the 1940’s.

It was one of the first species identified as needing urgent action as a UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority terrestrial mammal species.

They have undergone one of the most drastic declines of all UK mammals, largely as a result of the introduction of the North American grey squirrel in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The larger greys are not only able to out-compete the native reds but they also carry the squirrelpox virus, which is fatal to red squirrels.

Today there are an estimated 140,000 red squirrels compared to the 2.5 million grey squirrel.