Anger over threat to red squirrel colony from Inchree tree felling

One of he squirrels which have made the Inchree feeding station such a popular attraction for visitors. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, NO-F04-Squirrel-Inchree.jpg
One of he squirrels which have made the Inchree feeding station such a popular attraction for visitors. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, NO-F04-Squirrel-Inchree.jpg

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Forestry and Land Scotland this week stands accused of sacrificing a long-established, popular red squirrel site as part of efforts to wipe out a killer tree disease.

The red squirrel feeding station at Inchree car park on the outskirts of Onich, has delighted visitors  and the local community for more than a decade, helping the iconic, but critically endangered, species to thrive in an amenity woodland. But now felling operations by Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) to tackle a Phytophthora ramorum fungus infection, are threatening the colony, according to Iain Jenner of both Nether Lochaber Community Council and Nether Lochaber Community Association.

‘For our community, this is a significant asset and the fact that it appears this thriving colony, with drey clusters in amongst the larch already being removed, must now be decimated in order to reduce the prevalence of a tree disease is tragic. It speaks to a cultural failure of land management,’ Mr Jenner told us.

Asked to comment, a spokesperson for Forestry and Land Scotland commented: ‘The felling operations at Inchree are being carried out in line with a Statutory Plant Health Notice (SPHN) which – following infection of the larch trees there by Phytophthora ramorum – requires us to fell some of the area.

‘As part of our operational planning for the work – and in accordance with forest industry guidance – the impact to squirrels has been minimised through mitigation measures, including the layout of the felling operation and some retentions of non-larch species.’

Mr Jenner, himself an arborist to trade, said he fully understands the motivation to prevent a reservoir of Phytophthora spreading.

But he added: ‘Nevertheless, for FLS priorities, this basically means a protected native animal species will have its habitat excised in order to protect a non-native timber cash crop. The greater volume of native woodland in Nether Lochaber is outside FLS lands, beyond its remit.’

Mr Jenner said the eradication of the Phytophthora reservoir will not be a success unless enforcement action is also taken on adjacent lands to remove rhododendron ponticuum.

And he warned: ‘In addition, unless vehicle traffic moving in and out of the Glen Righ forests are being disinfected, then biological control has not been established, and those vehicles could be spreading spores across the region.

‘What is surprising is that the potential Phytophthora situation was not anticipated many years ago, and mitigation measures enacted.

‘If a private landowner was to carry out such an act they would be charged with committing a criminal offence. I think we as taxpayers are entitled to expect best practice.