Red squirrels hold their ground

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Scotland’s red squirrel population has stabilised, according to an annual survey.

Since 2011, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels has been monitoring squirrel populations in the parts of the country where reds are most under threat from the spread of non-native greys.

Grey squirrels, which were introduced to Britain from North America in the 19th century, out-compete red squirrels for resources, and can also carry squirrelpox, a virus that doesn’t harm them but is deadly to reds.

The 2017 survey results show that red squirrel populations have remained stable in the past year, a sign that, with continued effort from conservationists and volunteers, their decline can be halted.

Photo Steve Gardner

Mary-Anne Collis, red squirrel conservation officer for Argyll, the Trossachs and Stirling said: ‘In the central lowlands, red squirrels are holding their ground and as a result we’ve started to see them in areas where they haven’t been seen for a long time. This is particularly noticeable to the south and east of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, which is now predominantly a red-only zone.’

Dr Mel Tonkin, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project manager, added: ‘Unfortunately, red squirrel numbers have continued to fall in parts of the Scottish Borders, especially since the arrival in Berwickshire of the deadly squirrelpox virus from south of the border in 2011.’

Squirrel populations are surveyed using feeder boxes placed in the same areas of woodland each spring. When a squirrel visits a feeder box, a sticky tab collects some of its hair, which can then be identified under a microscope.