Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels has published the results of its 2017 annual survey, which indicate that overall Scotland’s red squirrel populations have stabilised. Locally, reds have successfully maintained their range in the face of an increasing threat from grey squirrels, which carry the deadly squirrelpox virus.
Dr Mel Tonkin, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project manager, said: “In Dumfries and Galloway, red squirrels continue to do well, but are threatened by increasing records of grey squirrels which appear to be spreading into Nithsdale from the east and north. It is vital that the work we do here is stepped up to make sure these red squirrel populations remain healthy.”
The survey found that in the south of Scotland, overall grey squirrel occupancy has risen since 2014, especially between Thornhill and New Galloway. Researchers believe it is associated with the autumn of 2014 when there was a superabundance of beech nuts, which led to increased over-winter survival and a peak in production of grey squirrels in 2015. Trapping figures for 2015 also found a surge in greys right across the country.
The report said: “Unfortunately in the south of Scotland the previous less extensive grey squirrel distribution has not yet been restored despite continuing efforts by landowners to the east and volunteer groups to the west.” However, the survey team is confident that reds appear to have maintained their geographical spread.
And they are keen to ensure the breed stays local with a programme of conservation work planned. The group said: “With new resources being deployed by the SSRS project to Dumfries and Galloway to increase the conservation work here, we hope to be able to reverse this worrying trend. “With each passing year we learn more about squirrel population interactions and the effect on species range – thanks to the systematic data collected over the SSRS project period. This is essential in helping us to assess the effects of grey squirrel control on both red and grey squirrel populations, and to determine just how much effort will be necessary over the years to maintain red squirrel populations in the priority landscapes.”
Meanwhile, volunteers are being recruited to participate in the 2018 survey, which will take place between March and April. Anyone interested can sign up on the Scottish Wildlife Trust website. The 2017 Squirrel Survey report can be viewed at www.scottishsquirrels.org.uk
- Photo above taken by Andrew K Murray of Eaglesfield