Scotland’s red squirrels may well have their best chance yet to thrive with the recent announcement that the successful grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, awarded to the Scottish Wildlife Trust is now springing into action. The grant has been given to SSRS (Saving Scotlands Red Squirrels) who are to start developing the community based action with immediate effect.
RSST is thrilled to continue its support and remains a partner of the Scottish national red squirrel project, SSRS, bringing the added advantage of direct engagement with the UK Squirrel Accord. This was of particular value in the success of the SSRS bid for a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant as the Squirrel Accord is recognized by HLF as the advisory body providing professional and impartial advice in the areas of squirrel conservation, squirrel control and squirrel related woodland management: the RSST representative on the SSRS board was able to act as mentor in crafting the successful bid. Other partners within Scotland include the Scottish Wildlife Trust who applied for the bid, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland and the Scottish Rural Property Association.
Over the next five years Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels will enlist hundreds of volunteers in three key regions to carry out practical work to protect and strengthen red squirrel populations. Scotland is home to just 120,000 red squirrels, three quarters of the UK population. The main threat to their survival comes from competition with invasive non-native grey squirrels and the spread of the deadly squirrelpox virus. Over the last eight years SSRS’s has proved that it is possible to change their fortunes.
“Through targeted control of grey squirrels we can reverse the decline of our native reds and help them return to former territories,” said Dr Mel Tonkin, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels Project Manager. “Thanks to National Lottery players we will be able to empower communities to help protect not just their local red squirrels, but major populations of the species in Scotland, and ensure that future generations can continue to see these special animals.”
The funding has been welcomed by Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, who said: “Red squirrels are a priority species that we need to do all we can to help. Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels has led important work to conserve them since 2009. It is fantastic that players of the National Lottery will help to mobilise communities to take practical action to protect one of our best loved animals.”
The three key areas for the project are North East Scotland, the Central Lowlands and Southern Scotland:
Grey squirrel populations have been significantly reduced in North-East Scotland the last eight years. The project will continue to work towards making the area a grey-squirrel free zone by developing a rapid response system to detect and remove residual individuals.
The Central Lowlands stretch from Argyll to Tayside. In this area coordinated control of grey squirrels will prevent them from becoming established north of the ‘Highland Line’. The Scottish Highlands are home to the UK’s largest population of red squirrels unaffected by greys.
In Southern Scotland, work will focus on eight Priority Areas for Red Squirrel Conservation (PARCs). Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels will create networks of local people who are able to make an important ecological impact by monitoring squirrel numbers and trapping greys that would otherwise oust local red squirrels, making them more resilient to changes and safeguarding important populations.
Lucy Casot, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, added: “Many of us have a soft spot for red squirrels and sighting one in the flesh is an exciting, but sadly increasingly rare experience.
“Thanks to National Lottery players’ support, we’re helping organisations and communities protect and care for Scotland’s red squirrels, which represent three quarters of the UK’s dwindling population. We’ve been impressed with the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s collaborative approach to help save this beautiful species and look forward to seeing the project progress.”