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 for red squirrels is 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 love our countryside and 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 now has the largest proportion of red squirrels, with an estimated 121,000 of the 160,000 British population living in our woodlands, parks and gardens.
Grey squirrels also brought disease with them. Over generations, they have become immune to many of their viruses and diseases but our red squirrels are not. The biggest problem is 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, Scottish Natural Heritage included it on the Species Action Framework which provides 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 both the Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels project and Red Squirrels in South Scotland project to provide management guidance to woodland owners as well as reducing the threat from grey squirrels and the diseases they carry. Red Squirrels of the Highlands are also working hard to make sure that red squirrels continue to have a sustainable home in the main area of the country without grey squirrels.
Forestry Commission Scotland has identified a number of red squirrel strongholds which will be managed in the future to support red squirrels, even if grey squirrels spread. Scottish Natural Heritage is also identifying key locations for grey squirrel control which will, with a little effort, reduce the pressure from dispersing grey squirrels. These project will be combined in 2010 to a single policy on Government action to conserve red squirrels.
What can you do?
Last updated on Tuesday 14th May 2013 at 08:54 AM. Click here to comment on this page