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Establishing new red squirrel populations in Scotland

Large parts of the former range of red squirrels in Scotland remain unoccupied.  As populations of the species continue to be threatened by grey squirrel expansion and disease, fresh hope may lie in efforts to establish new red squirrel populations safe from the threat of the greys.

The problem

Red squirrels were once the only squirrel species in the UK. They are a woodland species and only thrive when there are sufficient large tracts of woodland for them to occupy. Unfortunately, the dual threat of loss of woodlands and the accidental release of non-native grey squirrels from North America, led to the devastation of our red squirrel population. Additionally, grey squirrels transmit a deadly virus to reds, which means when they come into contact, red squirrels are likely to go locally extinct pretty quickly. Lost from most of the UK, reds need help in areas where grey squirrels are currently not present.

The solution

Becky preparing nest boxes for transporting red squirrels

The project, led by Trees for Life, will aim to reintroduce red squirrels to two key regions – Morvern and the Dornoch Firth in the north and west Scottish Highlands.  This will create at least four new populations of red squirrels in areas well away from grey squirrel populations and the threat of squirrelpox virus. The work will also build on a previous wave of translocations to other Highland regions.  Our team will work with the local community to monitor the squirrels, both to ensure they are thriving and to feed into the creation of the first ever map of red squirrel distribution in the Highlands. We can also use this information to measure how far the red squirrels are moving from the release sites. This will therefore help us to understand better how red squirrels move and colonise new areas naturally, how long it usually takes and what distance they are able to move.

Red squirrel snoozing in nest box whilst in transit

The project team will work hard to form positive relationships with landowners so that the most suitable release sites are chosen, ensuring the red squirrels have the best chance of survival in the future. It’s also important that the team can access enough donor populations to ensure that the supply of squirrels for translocation is sustainable. The continued health of donor populations from other regions of Scotland is a central focus of the project. The team are working closely with Scottish Natural Heritage to make sure that the areas red squirrels are taken from, continue to have healthy, robust populations.

Trees for Life are leading this project

This project is only possible thanks to our generous donors. Can you help by donating today? 

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