One of our most popular posts on the SNH facebook page recently was a story highlighting how Aberdeen residents were thrilled to see red squirrels make a comeback to the city. It shows the affection that is widespread across Scotland for this most engaging of mammals. Steve Willis, Project Officer for the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project (SSRS), provides a guest blog today looking at the significance of the work to save red squirrels in Aberdeen and beyond.
Residents of Aberdeen have been pleasantly surprised by a new addition to the wildlife in their gardens – the red squirrel is making a comeback. In recent months Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels have received a flurry of records from members of the public seeing this charismatic mammal in parts of the city where they have not been seen for many years.
The native red squirrel has been a feature of many a garden in some areas of the western edge of the city, especially those adjacent to some of the bigger conifer plantations, but until recently they were still missing from the urban landscape. It’s early days, but the signs that reds are really back in the city are very promising.
This news is music to the ears of the SSRS team and their many volunteers. SSRS staff trap grey squirrels across both Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire and the public get involved too, indeed SSRS runs a successful trap-loan scheme which has made a huge difference across what is after all a huge area. As the non-native competitor is removed, reds are free to flood back in to former haunts.
The grey squirrel is not native to Scotland. They 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. Grey squirrels are a tough competitor for the reds. They survive well, out-competing the smaller, more specialised red squirrel across much of its range. Once found right across Britain, red squirrels have subsequently been lost from most of England and Wales. Scotland now has the largest proportion of the UK population.
A further complication of the grey squirrel’s presence is a disease that is prevalent within their population. Squirrelpox virus does not affect grey squirrels, but is fatal to red squirrels in a matter of weeks. It is currently found only in South Scotland but this virus has proved very hard to contain and the rest of the Scottish population could be at risk very soon. For now though, it is a long way from the northeast of Scotland and simple competition for food remains the greatest threat posed by the grey squirrel.
Some people may be upset that we trap grey squirrels, but this really is the only way to ensure the long term survival of our native reds. Trapping the non-native grey squirrel is helping to right a wrong made by our ancestors many years ago.
Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is a partnership project led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT). As well as grey squirrel control collecting information on the distribution of red and grey squirrels across Scotland is a high priority. Detailed survey is carried out across the region- not only by the local SSRS team but also by a huge number of volunteers. This allows SSRS to identify areas of importance where habitat management or grey squirrel control will benefit red squirrel populations, and also to understand natural changes in their populations. The data will be shared with local biological records centres and the national database of squirrel records.
So next time you’re out for a walk in the woods, or even see a squirrel in your garden, please report your sightings to us at
Further reading: http://www.scottishsquirrels.org.uk/