We’re going nuts about squirrels this week as it is National Red Squirrel Week. Protecting and supporting our red squirrel population is one of our #WildPark2020 ‘wild challenges’ and is a priority in our National Park Partnership Plan 2018-23. Mary-Anne Collis, Conservation Officer for Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, outlines how a range of partners are working to support these much-loved native critters in the National Park.
Scotland is home to 75% of the UK’s red squirrel population and many of them are found in or around Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, making this an important stronghold area for them.
While the National Park provides the perfect home for red squirrels, they are under continuous threat from non-native grey squirrels who not only compete for food and resources but also carry a virus called squirrel pox which can be fatal for red squirrels. The Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project, made up of a range of partners including Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Land and Estates, have been working to safeguard red squirrels from this threat by helping to make sure greys are removed from the National Park.
As a result of this hard work, and also a helping hand from the increasing pine marten population (which has been found to reduce greys and therefore help reds), the National Park is now almost a red only zone, with grey squirrels only seen around Callander and to the west of Loch Lomond. Red squirrels have also been seen moving back in to areas they haven’t been seen for many years, including at Balloch Castle Country Park and the RSPB reserve in Gartocharn.
With this year being the Year of Young People, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels have also been working with the National Park to run a Red Squirrel Roadshow for local young people. We’ve been visiting primary schools across the Park to teach students about red squirrels. Each school now has their own squirrel feeder and a wildlife camera to record who comes to visit it. The students have been fantastic and many have already become expert squirrel spotters.
To celebrate Red Squirrel Week, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels has teamed up with various organisations in the National Park to bring you a week of red squirrel-themed guided walks, talks and family activities. You can find out more about these events here.
But you don’t have to limit your support for our red squirrel to just one week – you can help to support our project anytime by reporting a red or grey squirrel sighting. Each sighting received is added to a national database, which not only helps conservationists to monitor changes in red and grey squirrel distribution over time, but also enables them to identify the best areas for targeting red squirrel conservation action. Visitor the brand new online hub at scottishsquirrels.org.uk where you can report your squirrel sightings, register for a personalised record of all your sightings, get involved with a local group, or be part of an online space to chat and share experiences with other red squirrel supporters.