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Home // Research grants // Our UK mammal projects // Returning red squirrels to Scotland

Returning red squirrels to Scotland

Parts of Scotland are perfect red squirrel habitat and have not been colonised by greys. We are working with Trees for Life to extend the red squirrels' Scottish stronghold.

The problem

Red squirrels were once common across most of the UK but habitat fragmentation, competition from non-native grey squirrels and the spread of squirrel pox have decimated numbers. Today, Scotland is the species’ best stronghold, with around 121,000 individuals. However, this is only a fraction of previous numbers, and many former territories remain unoccupied.

The solution

Over three years, this project Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) in flowering heather, Inshriach Forest, Scotland, by Peter Cairnswill reintroduce red squirrels to ten sites across the northwest Scottish Highlands, where there is ample excellent habitat. Donor squirrels will be sourced from disease-free areas across the Highlands and Moray and translocated to suitable forests in previously occupied parts of their range. The populations will be located in regional clusters that can expand and colonise intervening habitat, creating new core populations that are free from grey squirrels and squirrel pox. The project will develop methods of monitoring the new populations, assessing rate of expansion, habitat use and breeding. Through trialing various techniques of monitoring, new best practice guidelines will be developed that can be used to inform future reintroductions, potentially both within Scotland and elsewhere.


This work provides an exciting new key direction for red squirrel conservation in the UK. Through increasing both the number and the geographic range of red squirrels, it will provide a much-needed boost in the fight for the species’ survival.

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