Saving the Red Squirrels Project
The 30th Season of the Tain and District Field Club Lectures,
9th February 2010
Field Club Members were treated to some insights into the private life of the red squirrel at the 6th talk of the winter season. The topic was “Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels Project” and the speaker was Dr Mel Tonkin of Scottish Wildlife Trust. Accompanied by some beautiful pictures of her subject, she lead her audience through the aims of the project, the biology of red and grey squirrels, the strategy for controlling greys, and the need for more survey data.
The estimate is that only 121,000 reds are left in Scotland, and these represent 75% of the UK population. Greys have been pushing reds out since their introduction in the1800s, assisted south of the border by the greys carrying squirrel pox which is lethal to reds. So far there is no sign yet of this disease in Scotland. Reds and greys occupy similar habitats, but natural stocking density of reds at 1-2/ha is very much lower than greys, allowing the latter to dominate some of the more common foods shared by both species
Grey squirrels have completely replaced reds throughout much of lowland Scotland. The remaining heartlands for reds is the Highlands, north Perthshire, Grampian and Argyll. Therefore, part of the strategy for saving the red squirrel is to control the spread of greys by setting up a “cordon sanitaire” along the Highland fault line (the high ground is a barrier and valley corridors can be controlled) and targeting key areas of spread within such as Aberdeen.
Survey data is still very much needed to assess progress – search the web on “Scottish Squirrel Survey” for how you can help.