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Dark secret squirrelled away in a churchyard
By KRISTINA PEDERSEN, Daily Mail

9th June 2006




Standing out from the grey: The black squirrel forages in the churchyard at Meppershall

These days spotting a red squirrel is something of a rarity.

But churchgoers in a Bedfordshire village have gone one better. They have their very own black squirrel.

The animal has been returning to the churchyard at St Mary The Virgin in Meppershall to forage for nuts and has become something of a favourite with parishioners.

Black squirrels are very rare. There are believed to be only a few thousand in the UK.

Wildlife expert Robert Burton said the type was introduced to Woburn Park in Bedfordshire by the Duke of Bedfordshire at the end of the last century.

Exploratory by nature, they spread to Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. The squirrels are not actually a breed in their own right, but a mutation of the eastern grey squirrel, the most common type which lives all over Britain.

The shiny black colouring is a result of excessive production of melanin, the same skin pigment that helps humans tan.

An RSPCA spokesman said of the Meppershall squirrel: "It is a rare treat for these parishioners, as we have never encountered one."

She added: "What is certainly unusual is how friendly these squirrels appear to be.

"It could be because they have never had bad experiences with humans, or, when they set up home, like this one has at the church, people make a real fuss."

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