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Pine martens and red squirrels in Scotland

Research has shown that as pine martens are making a come-back in woodlands across Ireland fewer grey squirrels are being observed. This could be good news for red squirrels.

The problem

Until 1800 pine martens were common across the UK. Now they are confined to Scotland and Ireland, with just a few scattered populations in England and Wales.

Red squirrels are under great pressure from the invasive grey squirrel population in the UK. The greys not only out-compete the red squirrels for food but also pass on the squirrel-pox virus, which whilst harmless to them is lethal to our native squirrel. Red squirrel populations in England have been decimated over the last 70 years.

 The solution

A collaborative project will take place over the next two years at a woodland site in Scotland, a designated stronghold for red squirrels but with an imminent threat of encroachment from greys. To test the hypothesis that the spread of pine martens suppresses grey squirrel populations, the team will devise and test a way of monitoring the pine marten population and distribution patterns at the site. From this they will produce a standardised methodology which will be used to give a nationwide picture of how pine martens are behaving.

If the findings from Ireland hold true at this Scottish site – that more pine martens mean less grey squirrels – then this is a very important piece of the jigsaw puzzle to add to the long-term conservation strategy to save red squirrels.

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