Is there a mammal more beautiful than the red squirrel? Despite their popularity, Scotland's red squirrels are one of our most threatened species. Without urgent help they could become extinct in Scotland before the century ends.
Red squirrels rely on woodland. They feed, nest and breed in trees and need good amounts of well-managed woodland to survive. Loss of woodland in the past has undoubtedly caused difficulties but woodland owners and managers now recognise the challenges facing squirrels and are taking action to help them.
The biggest problem the introduced grey squirrel. These animals were brought over from North America in the late 19th and early 20th century by people who thought they would make an attractive addition to our parks. Unfortunately grey squirrels survive well, out-competing the smaller, more specialised red squirrel across much of its range. Once found across Britain, red squirrels have been lost from most of England and Wales. Scotland has the largest proportion, with an estimated 121,000 of the 160,000 British population living in our woodlands, parks and gardens.
Grey squirrels also brought disease. Over generations, they have raised resistance to many of their viruses and diseases but our red squirrels have not had the opportunity. In particular squirrelpox virus which is fatal to red squirrels. It is currently found only in South Scotland but, if this disease is allowed to spread, the rest of the Scottish population could be at risk. This is possibly the single greatest risk to the future of red squirrels in Scotland.
What are we doing?
Red squirrels were one of the first species identified as needing urgent action and a Species Action Plan was published under the Biodiversity Action Plan in 1995. In 2007, we included it on the Species Action Framework which provided a variety of practical actions to help the species survive.
Legally, red squirrels and their dreys are fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 . However, statutory protection is not enough to save squirrels without local and public support and we are working with the Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels to provide management guidance to woodland owners as well as reducing the threat from grey squirrels and the diseases they carry.
In 2009, Forestry Commission Scotland identified a number of red squirrel strongholds which they will manage to support red squirrels, even if grey squirrels spread. In 2010, we also identified key locations for grey squirrel control which will, with a little effort, reduce the pressure from dispersing grey squirrels. The outcome of this work will help to define a strategy to help red squirrels survive against the spread of grey squirrels in Scotland.
What can you do?
Last updated on Thursday 22nd August 2013 at 14:38 PM. Click here to comment on this page