A COCKERMOUTH man is appealing to residents to not feed red squirrels as parts of the town are becoming a death trap for the endangered animals.

The town cemetery used to be a haven for red squirrels but numbers have plummeted over the years as many of them are killed on the nearby roads or by dogs and cats.

Wildlife photographer Peter Skillen said: "People have been feeding the squirrels for years - in the cemetery and surrounding gardens. There was a lady who used to hand feed them in the cemetery in the 1980s, it was a great habitat for them.

"But this is not the case anymore as it's no longer safe. Over the years we have seen numbers decreasing dramatically, more are being killed on the roads - which are becoming busier, domestic animals are also killing them.

"There are so many factors which are making the cemetery a death trap, it's surrounded by roads. The only safe route is the cycleway but there are so many dogs and even cats around there.

"People should not be encouraging the squirrels in to the cemetery."

In the past year, Peter is aware of three red squirrels being killed on Lorton Road and one on Strawberry How Road.

"There have also definitely been at least two killed by dogs in the cemetery in the last year. I was really distressed to see one which was really badly injured, with broken legs," he said.

"We are really fortunate to have red squirrels here but the population in and around the cemetery has crashed from around 14 about seven years ago, to two or three individuals now."

He is appealing to people not to feed them.

"I think that it is time to stop feeding the squirrels in and around the cemetery, as their lives are in danger from human impact, cars, cats, dogs, pollution, feeding them with the wrong food and also disease from the grey squirrel population," he said.

"I am convinced that a squirrel will not last more than a few weeks once it has made the cemetery it's home.

"Well-meaning people along Lorton Road and Strawberry How Road put out food for the squirrels which have to cross the road which is getting busier due to the increase in housing.

"I know that people get a lot of enjoyment from feeding the squirrels and attracting them to their gardens but, in my honest opinion, the dangers far outweigh the benefits."