Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels has published the results of its 2018 annual survey, which indicate that while most of Scotland’s red squirrel populations remain stable, populations in southern Scotland are threatened.
They found that while the proportion of survey sites detecting red squirrels has remained constant, the number of sites with a grey squirrel presence has significantly increased, suggesting that greys are continuing to move into what was previously “red only” territory.
Although reds and greys can live side by side for a short period of time, in most wooded landscapes, grey squirrels will typically replace reds within a few years unless efforts are made to reduce their numbers. When squirrelpox is present this process can be far more sudden and rapid.
A particular challenge locally is the spread of greys from the Central Belt and up from Cumbria into this region.
In addition, grey squirrels also favour broadleaved trees such as oak and beech, which are more common in South Scotland’s woodlands.
Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels’ work in South Scotland is focused on the most defendable red squirrel populations and they are still found in many areas including the Annan Valley and Glenkens,.
Dr Mel Tonkin, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project manager, said: “Grey squirrels have continued to spread in some parts of southern Scotland, particularly in the eastern Borders and in the Nithsdale area of Dumfriesshire. It is vital that the work we do in priority areas is stepped up to make sure that the red squirrel populations in these areas remain healthy.”
Dr Stephanie Johnstone, conservation officer for South West Scotland added: “While the region faces considerable challenges, the south of Scotland is still home to healthy red squirrel populations.
“Fortunately there is a lot of community support for the work that we do, and local volunteers and landowners are playing a vital role in efforts to keep grey squirrel numbers low in target areas.
“In response to the increased threat of grey squirrels in the Nith Valley, we are working with local landowners who are rallying to the cause to protect their red squirrels.”