The Red Squirrel is an iconic species in Scotland. Once widespread, red squirrels have undergone a catastrophic population decline primarily due to competition from the non-native invasive, American grey squirrel. There are now only c.160, 000 red squirrels remaining in the UK of which 120,000 occur in Scotland – 75% of the remaining UK red squirrel population. To reverse the decline and create the conditions for this mammal to thrive, the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrel (SSRS) project was formed.
SSRS is a partnership project, led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and with significant input from a large and diverse group of stakeholders including Scottish Land & Estates, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB Scotland and Red Squirrel Survival Trust. In addition, the partnership is supported by householders who are participating in trapping schemes and an extensive network of over 400 landowners who are helping by trapping on their own land in a co-ordinated scheme covering well over 4,000 square kilometres.
The innovative project has established that it is possible to halt the decline of red squirrels over a wide area via strategically targeted and co-ordinated landscape-scale grey squirrel control. The initiative has enabled reds to re-establish in many areas.
The control work has halted the decline of red squirrels in numerous project areas, and in Aberdeen the geographic spread of grey squirrels has been significantly reduced. In the Central Lowlands the northward spread of grey squirrels into red only populations of highland Scotland has been prevented. In southern Scotland, the northward spread of squirrel pox has been slowed, however the virus is very difficult to contain and an inevitable spread towards the Central Lowlands is expected.
Despite the widespread presence of squirrel pox in southern Scotland, red squirrels have recovered and are thriving in landscapes here where grey squirrel densities are kept very low, even with widespread presence of squirrel pox.
Evidence shows sustained control produces ongoing reductions in the grey squirrel population, however, it is important trapping is sustained in order to prevent reinvasions from un-trapped squirrel populations.
More information about the project can be found at http://scottishsquirrels.org.uk/ or you can find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SavingScotlandsRedSquirrels