With the rapid spread of the American grey squirrel, our native red squirrel faces unsustainable competition for food, loss of habitat and lethal infectious disease. But there is hope.
Three years into the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project, I’m excited to report that we have made a real difference. We have reduced numbers of grey squirrels in target areas and have established an extensive red squirrel protection network to combat the spread of the deadly squirrelpox virus. As a result we have started to see signs of recovery in populations of reds.
But we must not stop now.
Experts agree that if we can fund this vital work for another two years we will have the evidence required to create a long term survival plan for red squirrels in Scotland. We urgently need to raise funds to achieve this.
The grey squirrel is twice the size of the red, much bolder at searching out food and – crucially – is more efficient at digesting nuts and seeds. This means they outcompete the red squirrel for food, eventually making it impossible for red and grey squirrels to live in the same woodland.
Unfortunately, this situation has become much more serious in recent times as grey squirrels have become host to the squirrelpox virus, against which they are immune, but which is fatal to red squirrels.
In almost 100% of cases this results in a painful death within two weeks of exposure.
Grey squirrels in the Central Belt of Scotland do not currently carry the squirrelpox virus but the grey squirrels in northern England and southern Scotland do. It is vitally important that we stop the squirrelpox from spreading further north.
Grey squirrels are not naturally found in the United Kingdom. They were introduced (from North America) by the Victorians around 1870.
There are now 20 times more grey squirrels than red squirrels in Britain and as grey squirrel numbers increase, red squirrel numbers dwindle.
At the moment, the situation is better in Scotland, and our best hope is to focus efforts here.
To protect the key populations of red squirrels in Scotland, we must stop the grey squirrel from spreading any further.
Remember - this is a man-made problem.
Above: Relative populations of red and grey
squirrels in Scotland and the rest of the UK
Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is a national, government-backed project to coordinate effective and humane grey squirrel control in key locations. The project is led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates and the Red Squirrel Survival Trust.
Over the next two years, we need to:
To deliver these ambitious targets will cost £1 million, and we’ve already succeeded in raising a fantastic £890,000. Can you now help us raise the final £110,000 to give Scotland’s red squirrels a fighting chance?
Left: The threat of squirrelpox in Scotland.
Orange shaded areas show project activity.
Dr Mel Tonkin, Project Manager, Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels
The Scottish Wildlife Trust would not exist without the support of its members and supporters.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust is a company limited by guarantee, registered in Scotland (registered number SC040247), having its registered office at